Integrity Matters
March 4, 2003

Boss's behavior seems harsh

Question: (E-026) A friend in Hawaii has announced his retirement at age 55 from his employer of 21 years. He is in sales and recently told me that his boss put him on written warning for his performance last year, even though he met his sales quota. It was because he did not sell enough to one of the accounts per sales plan. My friend is 55 and cannot really afford to retire, but felt he was going to get forced out in a “youth movement” and did not want his work record to have on it the word “fired”!

I do not know all the facts; however, it does seem to me that when an employee has 20-plus years with a firm, having always been loyal to the organization, he deserves more than routine consideration. The behavior of the boss seems to lack integrity. It appears that this situation smells of constructive or wrongful discharge. What do you think?

Response: Companies have rights to manage their operations in a variety of ways. They can legally, hire and fire employees. Your friend is no exception. With reference to the integrity issue, we may find answers by first breaking down the concerns expressed in your letter.

Your friend announced his retirement, and for whatever reasons he chose this language, it may be difficult to undo this potentially legally binding announcement.

A written warning is serious matter and may be associated with breaches of conduct that can outweigh other valuable contributions. For an outsider to comment on such actions by management might assume legal knowledge (even labor precedents) that rest beyond the practice of addressing integrity in leadership.

A career of 20 years, assuming competence, would certainly warrant due process. Your friend should have been keeping copies of every relevant document. If he has not done so, he should make every effort to secure them. Given the facts presented, it appears this person would be well advised to follow a four-step process:

  • Review his situation with the appropriate personnel professional.
  • If things cannot resolved satisfactorily, he should outline his alternatives and confirm them with his attorney.
  • Seek a solution that does not “burn the bridge” for any future career opportunity with the company. ]
  • Accept the reality that a solution that in not integrity-centered could force a separation that has legal, financial, and emotional complications.

Legally, he may have boxed himself in. On the other hand, integrity-centered leadership could open a door for a more humane solution.

JIM BRACHER is founder of the Bracher Center for Integrity in Leadership in Monterey. His column, "Integrity Matters," appears Wednesday on the Business page. Readers are invited to submit questions on business-related ethics and values. Please write in care of INTEGRITY to The center's Web site is

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