Don’t hire problem employees

This past week, I was visiting my parents in upstate New York for Thanksgiving day. There, I noticed an article in the newspaper which caught my attention. It had nothing to do with software, business, or even world news. It was about the Philadelphia Eagles and their arbitration settlement with former wide receiver Terrell Owens.

The Eagles had recently suspended Owens for four games, forcing him to forfeit all pay for those games. After this suspension, they deactivated him for the remainder of the year and are looking to trade or release him before March. If they trade or release him before that time, they will not have to pay him a $5 million bonus. All of this has come about because of what kindergarten teachers refer to as “does not play well with others”. Sure he’s a great player, but he’s not a great team player. I don’t believe that this has been any big secret, and Philadelphia knew this when they signed him onto the team.

Owens, unhappy with what was being done with him declared that he wanted arbitration to help right things, as was his right in the agreement he signed. The arbitrator named Richard Bloch sided with the team, stating that due to Owens behavior, the team was well within their rights to terminate the contract.

The part that I found interesting was what happened after the arbitration. Gene Upshaw who is the Executive Director of the players association felt that it was such an outrage, that he “said he would have Bloch removed from the list of approved arbitrators next month when both the union and management are given that option.”

So, let me see if I have this right. Two parties get into an argument and go to an independent party to decide what’s going to happen, and what’s fair. The arbitrator sides with the first party, and the second party will seek to have the arbitrator fired because he didn’t side with them instead.

The very fact that either party has the opportunity to fire the independent arbitrator is a bit ludicrous. That’s why they’re called ‘independent’. In the US government, there exists a Supreme Court which acts as the independent arbitrator, and nobody has the authority to fire them once they are in place. Their terms in office last until they step down or they die. This has caused problems at times when a president is given the opportunity to stack the court with multiple candidates. However, the essence of the arrangement is that they are independent, and can make decisions based on their own judgement, rather than making decisions based on fear of retribution.

Regardless of how interesting the fallout of this situation is, the fact remains that the Eagles could have avoided this entirely had they done one simple thing. Simply not hired Owens to begin with. It is a well known fact that once you hire someone, it is very difficult to get rid of that person unless they do something terribly wrong, as in the case of Owens.

Employees in the USA are divided into two classes:

1) at-will employees
just-cause employees

An at-will employee in the USA can be terminated at any time, and for any reason – or no reason at all – and the courts will generally not intervene to protect the ex-employee from allegedly unfair treatment by the employer.

Just cause employees can be dismissed from employment only for a good reason, such as poor job performance by the employee.”

Dr. Ronald B. Standler

Owens was fired as a result of ‘just-cause’. Unfortunately for the Eagles, he had been causing problems within the team long before he had given them ‘just-cause’. I simply don’t know what the laws are in Pennsylvania in regards to just-cause and at-will. However I do know this.

If you don’t hire someone, they can never cause a problem.

I think that’s a very important piece of advise that many companies overlook. Nitpickers can argue that discrimination practices during the interview process can indeed cause problems even if you don’t hire someone. However, if your company is discriminating on the basis of race, religion, gender, whether you’re a cat or dog person, etc, then you have problems with the employees you already have and need to address those first.

In the case of the Eagles, the antics of Owens are well known and well documented. It has been said in the past that he is not a team player and football (American Football, for those of you outside of the US) is a team sport. People need to work together to accomplish their goal. Individual achievements are great, but they’re overshadowed by the accomplishments of the team. Great teams make players great, not the other way around.

The bottom line is if there are questions about the long term viability of an applicant, be they technical problems, team player problems, or simply that the person is lacking in the fundamentals, look for someone else. There’s certainly not a dearth of available developers out there.


  1. NormaJ on October 10, 2006 at 5:46 pm

    I have repeatedly tried to tell my superiors at work they need to check previous work history on prospective new-hires. We work in a professional aspect of the law enforcement field. At this time, over half our employees are immature, irresponsible, childish. They lack common sense and exhibit no pride whatsoever in their work. They have no comprehension of the seriousness of the work we do. It sickens me because there is no dealing with these people. Even as a “supervisor” I have no authority to discipline employees. They would just about have to commit murder before anyone would have the backbone to fire one of them. We have employees that have broken up marriages inside and outside our department. We have chronic liars and rumor-mongers. We have employees that will lie about problems with their work when we have recorded phone conversations proving they failed to do the proper thing. And they know we have recorded proof and they will still LIE. This new mentality in employees that we need them more than they need us is beyond belief. The mentality that they are doing us a favor just showing up for work is outrageous. Be very very careful and selective when hiring new employees. You may wind up with a bunch of “I.D. Ten T’s” or ID10Ts.

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