Newtons Laws of HR

The Feral Irishman had a post up last week about a one line crack by a manager got him fired after 22 years on the job.

One of my employee’s cousins has been a manager for a local supermarket. He moved up the ladder over the past 22 years.

A newly hired employee was prone to being a no – show or late to work.

Fed up with this the Manager commented something like this to the spud:
“Dude, you can’t be doing this. Showing up late, or not at all. Stop playing with yourself
and get here when your shift starts”

Mid to late teen spud goes to HR.
Sexual harassment.
22 year career ends.

Feral Irishman post

I’m a big fan of Newtons laws. Specifically, his third law of motion.

When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body.

Issac Newton

Otherwise known as “For ever action there’s an equal and opposite reaction.

Let’s apply it to the case above.

In my experience in technology, I’ve managed groups of technicians more than once. In a group or team there’s a dynamic. An esprit de corps, if you will. There are some things you just don’t do and tattle-tailing is one of them.

Here’s what has happened in my career – known from having this done, and having been the beneficiary of it.

First, The teen dude would become a pariah. No one would want to work with him. Hell, they may not even talk to him. His ass would be left on jobsites, or in the shop. More than likely, someone would have a chat with him. One things for sure, dudes like this don’t last long.

Second, the manager will get hired by a competitor. If he were a good boss, and the old company that asinine, you can bet the top techs will follow him, along with the customers. I worked for a telecommunications firm in the DC area that was on the receiving end of this, building a formidable technical staff and fat customer base from competitors doing dumb shit just like this. Business is business, and true talent is scarce. Once I was out with the bossman drinking, and he told me of this top tech he just hired. Turned out the guy was amazing, and wound up being a great mentor to me. Bossman’s ending line when he told me he hired the guy was epic – and it stays with me to this day, 30 years later – “You know, guys like Jeff don’t walk through your doors every day. When they do, you hire them before someone else gets him.”

But in the end, if you have an overactive HR department, the comment from Aesop is probably the best advice:

The first mistake was cutting Spud any slack.
One no-show or late: verbal warning.
Two no shows or late: written warning. Go home and miss the rest of your shift, without pay.
Three no-shows or late: You’re fired. Don’t bother coming back.
All with written scripts, and a witness.


I’m a much harder manager than I was in the past. And it came from having to manage immature jackasses like the teen dude in the story. I had a boss once, at that same firm, tell me that “firing your first person was hard. But the rest are easy and hell I haven’t fired anyone in a while, I kind of miss it.”

Although Aesop’s advice is sound, it can be a living hell trying to fire someone when HR is reticent to fire them. But he’s right. That’s how it’s done. I’ve made too many mistakes in the past by not to sharpening the long knives at the first infraction.