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Advice Wanted

I have an (young, just older than the teens) employee who must posess the most amount of unrealised potential I have ever seen in my thrity plus years in the business.  I do not say this lightly.

However, this person is going gthrough some personal problems right now, with, unfortunately, drugs and a few other things. It is beginning to have an effect on the employee's performance at work.

Perhaps I should explain a little more. This person works in both the technical support side of my business and also does some programming work. In either discipline the work is almost flawless and customers often requested to deal with only them. They constantly surprise the more experienced people with their ability to grasp abstract concepts and quickly output a workable and robust solution. They are an order of magnitude better than many of the employees with CS degrees (even from very reputable institutions), often producing more elegant solutions in a shorter time period.

I really don't want to have to fire them,  but have no other choice if the current predicament continues.

Advice please.

Mostly Harmless
Sunday, January 11, 2004

Talk to them about it.  Be nice, but tell them if they don't shape up, they're going get shipped out.

Tell them if they need help, you're there for them.

It might help to inform them that you want them to do more programming for you, I think everyone hates doing Tech Support adn it might give them something to look forward to.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

What problems?  The way you described it you should be giving him a raise.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Chapter 10 of _Alcoholics Anonymous_ is _To Employers_.

Christopher Wells
Sunday, January 11, 2004

I have no managerial experience, so no advice I can give from that side will mean anything.

But I've had some friends that have had other personal problems, and I think it's worth considering. An example: a friend of mine, a few years ago, met this girl (that's how all sad tales start, isn't it?).

For the sake of anonymity, we'll call them Alice and Bob. Anyway, no one likes Alice. That's not without reason: she is an alcoholic and cocaine addict. At least those, there may be more. She was, I am quite certain, 18 or 19 when they met. So anyway, the important thing is that Alice is horny and Bob can't say no (how many 19 year old guys can, really?).

All of my friends knew she was bad news. We told him that. Being the stubborn guy that he is, Bob now has a kid and a wife. That's OK for some people, but it's not a good relationship, as one might imagine.

The point is this: we *all* told him, repeatedly, that the girl was bad news. I think he realizes it now, but with the kid, it's hard for him to get out.

You need to be very careful what you say to your employee. I think you're very likely to get a "Fuck off, you're not my parents, don't lecture me" response. I know that's what I'd say, were I in his position. How many people do you know that are that willing to admit they are wrong? At least, until they've really messed up?

Here's an idea that's more likely to either succeed of fail explosively (beware!): Contact the kid's parents and friends. You can't help him. Face it, you really can't. His parents can't help. Anything you or they could do would have to be very extreme. But if his friends all think he should shape up, I think he'll very likely do it. Or they could be like Bob, and not admit to anyone until its far too late.

But then again, as a boss, you are probably not in a position to get into his personal life at all. Maybe you should call up one of those government programs or non-profits that specialize in helping misguided youths. They probably have some worthwhile advice, better than anything I could give.

Maybe you'd be better off just flat-out firing him and saying you'll hire him back when he's clean. It's less invasive than actually getting involved, so you'll probably be on better terms with him in the long run.

I hope things work out well for him.

Mike Swieton
Sunday, January 11, 2004

Shouldn't all employees be treated the same?  I assume you have clearly defined performance expectations.  So it should be a simple matter of progressive discipline, just as with any other employee.

If you are a manager, I would think you already know this.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

perhaps you could find out what he's smoking, and see if he can hook up the rest of your employees with the same. your business would be unstoppable!

that asshole guy who always has to say something clever
Sunday, January 11, 2004

that asshole guy who always has to say something clever,

That reminds me of story a buddy of mine was telling me about a mechanic that lived at the end of his street.

The guy started to do a little speed, and my buddy would drive home at midnight only to pass this mechanic out in his front yard scurrying around working on the wrecks in his front yard.

This guys family were in two minds, they were concerned about him using illicit drugs, on the other hand he had done up and sold three cars in a month :D

Sunday, January 11, 2004

There's nothing you can do.  Really.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

First, I would try to find a way to work around the performance problems, if there is any flexibility or possibility of cutting him some slack.  Can he work second shift?  Probably not, but maybe.  What about half days, starting at noon?  Maybe this problem is one that can be patched up for a while and it will blow over eventually.

Quite possibly not.  If you have to fire him, I agree with the other guy that if he gets cleaned up and comes back after, say, six months, you could give him another chance.  Trust your instincts on this part, don't get conned.

Don't beat yourself up if things don't work out. 

Matt Conrad
Sunday, January 11, 2004

If he knows that you're aware of his problem and you confront him with a sincere desire to help, he will probably be amenable to listening.

I think it's imperative that he knows what the result of continued use will be.  Nobody is worth it in the long term.  The change will be slow but one day soon, you'll wake up with more problems than you can cope with... so will he.

Deal with it NOW.  IMHO

Sunday, January 11, 2004

From a personal point of view, do what you can to help him out. I have friends who have been through AA, and I have to say I'm truly impressed with the results - an almost fanatical devotion to keeping themselves clean.

From a professional point of view, it's an interesting problem. You don't mention how it's affecting this person's work, but on an objective level, are they still performing at the level you expect from your employees? I mean, if someone performs at 150% and their performance drops by 30%, they're still outperforming the norm... [grin]

However, I recognize it's not that easy, and if the "problems" are the typical substance abuse spilling into work problems (tardiness, unreliability, personality changes, etc) then it can affect more than just that person's work - it can affect the entire workplace.

Definitely talk to the person and let them know you're willing to help. Offer resources (rehab/counseling) and let them know that if they're willing to work on their problem, their job will be available.


Sunday, January 11, 2004

I have an employee without significant education or experience, but he has a really strong aptitude--exactly the sort of person you want to encourage and lead to do much better.  However, he has a miserable temper, and has stormed out of vice president's offices when he's gotten (justifiably) angry at how he's being treated. 

I want to keep him around, but I can't let his temper go unchecked.  The balancing act I've struck that's worked so far is to give him his leash when he needs it, and talk to him afterwards, laying down the law (ie, it's unacceptable to storm out of meetings, and if it happens again we'll start climbing the discipline ladder, from writeups to suspensions to termination).

What I've done right (by luck, really), is to never talk down to him.  He's receptive to discussing his problem as a barrier to professional advancement, and with due regard given to the fact that the veep really was being an asshole.  In other words, by phrasing it as a practical problem with his continued employment, rather than as a father-son chat or as a you're-wrong-I'm-right-you'll-do-as-I-say situation, he's gotten better at controlling his temper.

Were I in your position, that's the tack I'd take: I'm here for you if you need help, but it's fundamentally your problem, and if you don't take responsibility for it, then it will be difficult, and then impossible, to continue to employ you.

That said, I got lucky in figuring out how to handle one difficult employee, and I doubt that there's a single good way to handle everyone who's personal problems are screwing up their job.  I do think that you won't do him any favors by cutting him an endless amount of slack.

Justin Johnson
Sunday, January 11, 2004

Do you know anything about his personal life prior to working for you? If his current troubles are an abberation from his normal behavior, you might be able to help him through it. On the other hand, if his life history is a series of episodes like this, he needs more (professional) help than you are able to give.

In either case it would probably be best for all concerned if you can set him up with counseling, I really doubt you are qualified to diagnose or help him.

Tom H
Sunday, January 11, 2004

If you want to try and understand him and ultimately help him, find out what you can about his parents.  Most children are, by and large, skewed mirrors of their parents - both the good bits and the bad bits.

The comments about AA certainly apply as well.

Mitch & Murray (from downtown)
Sunday, January 11, 2004

My co-worker died on New Year's Eve from an overdose of heroin.

I wish that one of us had tried to help before it was too late.

Monday, January 12, 2004

On the side-thread of Justin's worker's issues with the VP - why not write up the VP for discipline problems instead?

It's quite normal for competant workers to push back when they are being abused. You did make it quite clear that the poor guy was being abused and this wasn't just some situation where he was being fussy. Are employees just supposed to sit there and take abuse? Is that a requirement of the job? Or is the appropriate response to say "I won't sit here and listen to you talk to me that way." and leave the room.

My opinion is that staying in the room would have been the inappropriate behavior. At least he didn't punch the VP in the face!

Dennis Atkins
Monday, January 12, 2004

"There's nothing you can do.  Really."

This subject has come up before, and sadly, I think I mostly agree.

I have witnessed this a few times. Unsualy: brilliant hacker (BH) shows enormous potential.
(BH) emerges from computer desk (late teens, early twenties) and wants to "socialize" (get laid mostly).
BH has poor social skillz and tends to "rationalize" to extremity.
DH discovers drugs.
BH starts to "hack" mind with chemicals
BH almost nev er recovers
end of story

Maybe if you could get him a great girlfriend and great sex outside of the dope scene ...

Just me (Sir to you)
Monday, January 12, 2004

Remember, most 20 or 21 year olds do not place priority on their job.  Sounds like he hasn't dont colllege yet, so he may not evne view this job as "real".  This is beer money to him, and you must not forget it.  He is not putting food on the table with this paycheck.
That said,  have you told him the magnitude of your respect for his skills and talent?  This may help his self-esteem.

Also, tell him he is an employee, and despite his occassional brilliant performance, he needs to shape up. 

Ultimately, you must decide if his brilliance makes up for his inconsistent performance.    What you see if what you get.

Monday, January 12, 2004

sometimes very good performers do not really care about your business. it's a coincidence that he works on a project that you can use successfully. if it were a different project the good performer turns into a bad performer.

my "personal" experience ... no dope however,

Monday, January 12, 2004

Question: how do you KNOW he's on drugs?  If he's admitted to drug use or failed drug tests, those are obviously concrete signs, but those don't strike me as being terribly likely. 

Or are you just *inferring* that he's on drugs from his actions such as tardiness, being tired on the job, change in demeanor/appearance, etc?  Those symptoms can result from other causes like depression, sleep disorders, stress at home, etc.  I speak partly from personal experience here.

You have to make damn sure of the causes of his actions before proceeding, I think... because it's a matter of him engaging in irresponsible, self-destructive behavior versus him suffering from legitimate medical problems.  The chance for recovery and the amount of slack he should be afforded vary GREATLY depending on which of the two we're talking about here.

John Rose
Monday, January 12, 2004

"On the side-thread of Justin's worker's issues with the VP - why not write up the VP for discipline problems instead?.... At least he didn't punch the VP in the face!"

The VP and I did have a conversation at the end of the day about it.  He wanted to ensure that I wasn't encouraging that sort of behaviour in my employees, and that my employee was being clearly told that it's unacceptable behaviour--all of which I did.  For my part, I was able to tell the VP that he was being an ass (in slightly more diplomatic language than that), and that he was the cause of the problem, not my employee (something the VP grudgingly admitted).

But fundamentally, the VP was right--even if you're being treated badly by an upper management figure, the proper course is to suck it up and deal with it at the time, and seek redress later--"work, then grieve", in HR talk.  Yes, the VP was being an ass, but storming out in a fury doesn't help.  It actually made the situation worse.  No workplace is perfect, and if you can't deal with a certain amount of shit, then you're not going to last long anywhere.  A good workplace is one where these problems get worked out to everyone's satisfaction, not where they never happen.

Justin Johnson
Monday, January 12, 2004

I second John Rose, how do you know he is on drugs? Did he tell you, if so maybe this is a way of asking for help. Is it a rumour? If so this type of rumour mongering can do as much damage as anything else. I would definately straight talk him, tell him how you found out, without details and ask him straight if its true. If he says its not ask him if he would take a test.

moses whitecotton
Monday, January 12, 2004

This is exactly what Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are for. 

Here's a site you might find useful:

From the site: "EAPs are an extremely effective vehicle for addressing and resolving poor workplace performance that may stem from an employee’s personal problems, including alcohol and drug abuse."

We had a client who had an employee with a "little marijuana problem" - which tended to manifest itself at client sites. It was a similar situation in which he was their star performer (we knew about the situation because we were very close to the client's management team).  They sent him through a home grown EAP - suspended him with pay until he could do the treatment program (and made it clear that treatment / checks with his advisor were a condition of continued employment). 

He smartened up for a good year and a half, but eventually they did have to let him go.

Incidentally, according to their lawyer substance abuse is not necessarily a "with cause" excuse here in Ontario.  The employer is supposed to make an effort to provide some sort of help (such as an EAP program) and give the employee a second chance.

So I'd talk to a solid employment lawyer before taking action to find out what the law is in your area.

Name withheld...
Monday, January 12, 2004

Forget abouty the why. Is his performance worse than that of other employees, or is it simply that he's  not so madly enthusiastic as he was after the first months, but still one of your better employees. If the second case is true, then it is neither justified nor advisable to do anyting.

One of two things; either you used to take the same drugs he did, in which case you're walking proof they don't do irrevocable harm, or you didin't, in which case you don't know what you're talking about.

If he's coding stoned then have a word with him; explain it's none of your business how stoned he gets off duty, but if he's coding stoned then somebody else has to sort out the mess afterwards, and that's a real downer.

Don't enquire into his private life; your concern, even if it were genuine, will not be appreciated.

Stephen Jones
Monday, January 12, 2004

I think Bella hit on a good point when she (he?they?) said that aforementioned hacker probably just uses their paycheck as "beer money".... or in this case "drug money". By allowing the hacker to continue working you're enabling them to continue in their self-destructive behavior by providing them a means to buy drugs.

Some people don't get better until they hit rock bottom.

Fire them with the caveat that if they clean up you'll re-hire them (although they probably won't come back because they'll be too PO'd at you). Also provide them with resources to help get cleaned up (although they'll probably throw in the dumpster on their way out). If they're breaking any laws by taking drugs, warn them of this too (although they'll probably tell you to FO).

Don't expect that firing them in itself will make them change their ways (although lack of money should make it more difficult), but it's another datum proving the fact that doing drugs isn't good.

Finally, if you're a Christian, pray like hell for them. That'll do more good for them than anything else you can do.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Like a few others said, you should figure out if he actually has a drug problem before taking any action. This is a serious issue, as drug abuse is usually illegal. I think you can dismiss people for having problems with drugs and alcohol, but if he has a diagnosable illness like depression, you might run into legal issues yourself if you fired him.

A former employer of mine thought I had a drug problem when in reality I had narcolepsy. It wasn't a very good job, so I left after a year, but when my former employer asked him for a reference, he said "he is a great employee, but I fear he has a drug problem." I got hired anyway, which kind of makes me wonder about my current bosses. :)

Monday, January 12, 2004

Finally, if you're a Christian, pray like hell for them. That'll do more good for them than anything else you can do.
If you want to do that on your own time, that's noble-minded of you, but I'd warn against pushing the Christianity onto the guy with the drug problem unless you know he's Christian and would appreciate it.  Otherwise it's likely to alienate him further.

If there's one thing I resent, it's when co-workers try to push religion on me.  I fully respect their beliefs, but I also expect them to fully respect my right not to share in them.

John Rose
Monday, January 12, 2004

This reminds me of that case where someone was fired for a drug addiction because it was affecting his performance.

Years later, now clean and sober, he applied for work at the same place and they turned him down for his prior drug addiction. He sued because it's a medical problem, he shouldn't be penalized for it.

I read about it here, you should search for it.
Monday, January 12, 2004

As a non-Christian, I think the best thing you can do is pray for him.

That, and level with him. Tell him the good and the bad of what you've told us. Tell him that if his work continues to suffer you will have to let him go. I would probably go as far as to tell him that I don't care what he does on his own time, but if he comes in drunk/stoned/hungover, he'll be sent home. Document this meeting.

Maybe he'll shape up. Maybe he'll won't. Try not to beat yourself up too much about it. I used to work with a guy who sounds a lot like this guy. However, he was on the upslope - a recovered heroin addict. It can happen, but I suspect this guy went through hell to get back.

Monday, January 12, 2004

If you're Jewish, Moslem, Baha'ist, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh or Pagan don't bother praying for him, cost it won't work.  Is that the gist?

Other than that, unless whatever he does outside of working hours  affects his work it has nothing to do with you.  And as many have said, how do you know?

Its also quite true that smart young people get radically bored easily and the gamut of modern stimulants are often used as a way of stifling that boredom.  Twas ever thus and most people actually survive.  Mind you, some of them stay addicted to nicotine the rest of their shortened lives.

Simon Lucy
Monday, January 12, 2004

"If you're Jewish, Moslem, Baha'ist, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh or Pagan don't bother praying for him, cost it won't work.  Is that the gist?"
I guess I made the assumption that the guy doing the praying was Christian.  I should have phrased it more generically: "if you're going to share your religious feelings with him, be sure that it's something the recipient will appreciate, or else it might do more harm than good"

John Rose
Monday, January 12, 2004

If you are praying for somebody, you don't need to *tell* them that you are praying for them.

And religons other than christianity pray for people, too.

It is a hard one, because the bright-but-twisted folks tend to be a hard nut to crack about stuff like this.

The one fun bit of psychology is the principle of self-medication.  So people who really *should* be seeking treatment for clinical depression, adult ADD, mild autism, etc. will go for the illegal stuff instead.  It's something that they argue about a lot, most specifically in the case of folks with ADD.  One camp maintains that long-term ritalin usage makes it impossible for you to get much out of hard drugs, the other camp maintains that people are self-medicating and therefore feel no need for anything further.

I think most of your options are going to suck in a variety of different ways.  For one, sometimes people don't *want* to be helped unless they *do* hit rock bottom.  I've seen folks who were recreational drug users who didn't necessarily mind when they got fired becuase they were making *most* of their money off of dealing and to make them look more respectable, so firing them isn't necessarily the right thing.

If they get caught for one reason or another, this can reflect very badly on you and hurt morale and can expose you and your company to legal liability, depending.  So thus, especially if you have evidence of it, you pretty much have no choice but to do something.

I'd prefer there to be a carrot and stick going on.  They need to have the option of seeking professional help on their own accord and going clean. 

You need to explain things on an intellectual level.  If you are above average intelligence, you know that it's illegal and probably wrong, but have reasoned around it.

You can probably draw on one of the more reputable groups and institutions for helping people with drug and alchahol problems.  I'm sure you aren't the only boss who's had to deal with this.  Be careful, however, there are some bizare quacks out there ( )

Flamebait Sr.
Monday, January 12, 2004

First off, thank you to everyone who has taken the time to reply.

I do know for a fact that this person is "on drugs" (I really do not like that phrase, but if the cap fits...) and I know what their poison is. Suffice to say, this is not someone who is experimenting with pot. I did have to repramind him once, some time ago, for toking during his lunch hour.  It didn't seem to have a noticeable effect on his work, however.

I'm writing this from the UK, not the US, although most of the points mentioned are universal in outreach.

I will have a talk with them tomorrow, thanks again, everyone!

Mostly Harmless
Monday, January 12, 2004

Mostly, I wish you'd say what his poison is.



"even if you're being treated badly by an upper management figure, the proper course is to suck it up"

I disagree.

Let's take it to the extreme level - boss calls you a filthy negro all day and then rapes you in the stockroom. Still OK? Of course not. So where do you draw the line?

A question for you, what is it about your life that makes you say that abuse is OK and the victim's obligation is to bend over and take it like a man? Not trying to start a war here, but to try and shake you up a tille bit. You are clearly enabling the abusers which makes you a codependent. There is an organization - "Codependents Anonymous" that can provide some assistence in breaking out of this unhealthy and destructive pattern. Good luck.

Dennis Atkins
Monday, January 12, 2004

I'm glad to hear it's pot and not a more destructive drug.  I don't really endorse pot, but as long as he's doing it ouside of work hours and in reasonable quantities, it shouldn't really interfere with his ability to perform his job. 

I'm more worried about why he'd choose to toke during work hours.  To me, that shows a really flagrant disregard for work duties and might be indicative of larger work attitude problems.

Also, is his job stressful?  Or, more particularly, is the job stressful for *him*?  That might be one reason he feels the need to smoke up during work hours.  I don't think any amount of job stress justifies on-the-job drug use, but maybe he's feeling really stressed-out and is thus smoking up in an attempt to calm himself down.  You mentioned that part of his job involves working with customers.  That can reduce *anybody* to a wreck at times- and the types of people who are genius programmers (like him) are notoriously likely to feel uncomfortable interfacing with people.

John Rose
Monday, January 12, 2004

Also, kudos to you for wanting to work through his issues with him instead of having a knee-jerk reaction and firing him. 

John Rose
Monday, January 12, 2004

John Rose, Mostly Harmless said

"Suffice to say, this is not someone who is experimenting with pot."  Which means that his employee is using something other than pot...

However, according to the legal advice our client received (ymmv) - from a business perspective, the actual poison in use isn't particularly relevant, and *nor is whether or not performance is impacted*.  Doing nothing isn't a good option because it leaves the company open to all kinds of legal liability.  It also leaves the manager(s) who keep their "noses out of private business" open to their own headaches.

I would seriously check your area's laws. 

Here's a UK site on the matter:

Apparently, according to the Health and Safety at Work Act, employers are required to take steps to ensure that their employees are not endangering themselves or others.  If you as an employer know that your employee is taking drugs, and you let them drive home (for example).  And if something bad (tm) happens - you as the employer legally (and I would argue morally) have some responsibility for whatever occurred.

I'd also highlight points 3 and 4 from that site.

Name withheld
Monday, January 12, 2004

"Suffice to say, this is not someone who is experimenting with pot."  Which means that his employee is using something other than pot...

I took that to mean that he was not *merely* experimenting with pot, but that pot *was* the drug- mostly because of his other reference to "toking".

I've never heard the phrase "toking" applied to anything other than pot.  Even if "toking" doesn't refer to pot exclusively, it *definitely* applies to smoking... and pot is the only illegal drug I'm aware of that would leave a user even *remotely* capable of performing his job.  What other smokable drugs are there?  Crack, opium, pot w/ PCP... I'm no drug expert, but as far as I'm aware, none of those drugs would render one even remotely capable of returning from a lunch break in any coherent shape whatsoever.  Also those other drugs are "extreme" enough that most halfway sane people wouldn't even consider doing them on a lunch break- whereas smoking pot on a lunchbreak isn't unheard of.

I could have interpreted him incorrectly, of course... I'm not 100% sure.  Clarification is definitely welcome.

John Rose
Monday, January 12, 2004

"the actual poison in use isn't particularly relevant"
From a legal standpoint this may be true, but from a practical standpoint it is pretty relevant- while I don't use or endorse pot, it's relatively harmless in moderation and I've known quite a few functional pot smokers.  Whereas the same can't be said of regular users of other drugs.

While people can and do recover from "other" drugs, their success rate is... well... a lot lower, in my limited experience.  Users of other drugs are a lot more likely to turn to crime in order to get money for their habits, have health problems, overdose, etc.  Again, admittedly, this is anecdotal experience talking.  But if I were in Mostly Harmless' shoes, the guy's choice of drugs would be *extremely* integral to the decision upon the course of action I'd take. 

John Rose
Monday, January 12, 2004

Actually, there's quite a few drugs that one could use in "moderation" and remain at least reasonably functional.  Most of the club drugs are of this type.  It's doubly bad for those high-functioning individuals.  High-functioning folks can be in a drugged out haze of the hard stuff and still be in full control of their facilties, surprisingly so.

Doesn't mean it's a brilliant idea, I'd say.  The problem is that they all tend towards having nasty side effects, and generally odd sorts of subtle ones that don't show up without later research.

I've also noticed that more-than-experimenting use of drugs tends to turn a person into a prick, but that's my anecdotal evidence.

Flamebait Sr.
Monday, January 12, 2004

Ah, but the point is that in a business context, it's incredibly risky to apply your personal morals on drugs, if legally you are opened up to all kinds of issues as a result.

This board has had all kinds of people comment on the advisability of getting E&O insurance (general opinion seems to be that it is absolutely necessary for a software company), but the prevailing attitude is that whether or not action is necessary depends on which drug your employees are addicted to?

Forget losing your house and think about the potential criminal charges you are opening yourself up to...  This might not apply everywhere, but a basic search on the Internet suggests it applies to Canada, the US and the UK at the very least.

Re: definition of "toking", I thought that just referred to the method of taking the drug (as opposed to shooting up).  Searching turns up mostly references to marijuana, although some sites state it is an alternative for hashish too.

Incidentally, there are a number of mind-altering substances whose effects are not always completely incompatible with working, according to the /. crowd, including speed and ecstacy.

I wouldn't know - my only experience was with the idiot "toking up" at our client's client sites.

Name Withheld
Monday, January 12, 2004

"Actually, there's quite a few drugs that one could use in "moderation" and remain at least reasonably functional. "
I could be wrong, but... I could see using club-type drugs after work, and being funcitonal the next day... but those are all pill-type drugs (nothing you'd toke, generally) and I'm not sure you you could use them at lunch and come back even remotely functional.  Well- I'll stop speculating.  I'm no drug expert and it's better to wait for Mostly Harlmess to clarify.  :-)

John Rose
Monday, January 12, 2004

Wow, Dennis:  I'm speechless at how overboard you went in your interpretation of what I presented.

I said "even if you're being treated badly by an upper management figure, the proper course is to suck it up [... and seek redress later]"

You replied "I disagree.... Let's take it to the extreme level - boss calls you a filthy negro all day and then rapes you in the stockroom. Still OK? Of course not. So where do you draw the line?"

Well, obviously rape is not 'being treated badly', it's something far out of the realm of poor workplace relations, and I would never suggest just suffering through it and complaining later.  As for being called a 'filthy negro' all day, then I stand by what I said: the proper course is to not respond to the abuse, and to go to HR at your first opportunity and lodge a formal complaint, and if they don't handle the matter to your satisfaction, get a lawyer.  What's not the proper, or best, way to handle it is to hit your supervisor, or storm off the job, or freak out in return.  There are much more effective ways to handle it, and if you handle it badly, you can undercut your own case.

The "work, then grieve" formulation isn't mine, it's the National Labor Relations Board's, a federal organization that's tremendously sympathetic to employee complaints.  Just like a rape victim should postpone showering until a rape kit has been done in a hospital, because it strengthens the case against the rapist, a victimized employee should suffer silently just long enough to follow the formal complaint procedure, which offers the best odds of having the problem redressed fully.

You said "A question for you, what is it about your life that makes you say that abuse is OK and the victim's obligation is to bend over and take it like a man? Not trying to start a war here, but to try and shake you up a tille bit. You are clearly enabling the abusers which makes you a codependent. There is an organization - "Codependents Anonymous" that can provide some assistence in breaking out of this unhealthy and destructive pattern. Good luck."

Thank you for your concern, but this isn't even close to what I suggested, so I don't think codependency counseling is necessary.  I didn't say that you should suffer in silence, or just take abuse to prove how tough you are.  I said that when you're the target of abuse or poor treatment at work, there's a good way and a bad way to handle the situation, and the bad way is to respond in kind, or to storm out, or to in any way lower yourself to the level of your abuser, no matter how emotionally tempting it is.  The good way is to keep quiet and calmly make use of the plentiful avenues for redressing the situation after the fact.  By the logic you offered, you should throw down your resignation the minute anyone is less than totally respectful to you, in your opinion.  There's a middle ground of conflict resolution that really does handle most cases if people just keep a cool head and give it a chance.

Sorry for the long post, and the hijack, but I was being really mis-represented there.

Justin Johnson
Monday, January 12, 2004


I hate to say this but you're an idiot.

If the boss calls you a 'filthy negro', your advise is to continue working and anyone who refuses to take this abuse and walks away instead of stand there and listen to it is being unprofessional. What can I say? Under common law, those are fighting words. That means that if I am working for VP and he calls me a filthy negro, I am, legally, permitted to beat the crap out of him then and there. And in fact, that is exactly what *I * would do. None of this 'filing grievances with the proper authorities at the correct time in accordance with company policy' crapola from the hellhole where you and the other poor sap work.

This nonsense that you have to stand there and take this sort of abuse is absolutely wrong. People need to learn to stand up for themselves and not let others roll all over them while they lie there like some pathetic dunce and take it.

Dennis Atkins
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Ummm legally allowed to extrude the defecatory material from someone in a violently physical manner? 

Not under Common Law.

Not under any law.

Simon Lucy
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

What's wrong with getting high at work?  It really helps get the creative juices flowing.  Man, sometimes after a nice bowl of primo Vancouver bud, I start seeing things in my code that I didn't even know were possible.  It's totally bitchin' dude!

I think drug testing for programmers is a huge mistake.  The higher your programmers are, the more creative solutions you will get.  It's a total win-win, and any manager who can't see that is out of touch.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Simon, you're from England I recall, things may be different over there... or not, I don't know. Here in the US there's the issue of 'fighting words'. When you get dragged into court on assault charges, its an allowable defense to point to the use of fighting words by the person you thumped. The idea is there are some things that you can say to a man that are so upsetting and so provocative that any reasonable person would be so inflamed that thumping the provocator is the only reasonable thing to do. "The court finds the defendant not guilty due to the use of fighting words by the other party."

Racial slurs and comments about one's mother are two things that are considered to be fighting words by just about everyone everywhere. Say stuff along these lines to somebody and there's going to be consequences.

Dennis Atkins
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

The doctrine is so common it's even in this legal glossary:

fighting words
Words which have a direct tendency to cause acts of violence by the person to whom, individually, the remarks are addressed may be punished by government under carefully drawn statutes not susceptible of application to protected speech. Content based discrimination among fighting words is subject to strict scrutiny.

One place where this doctrine comes up practically every week is in police brutality cases. I dude getting arrested calls the cop a F-in pig and says his mother is a **. So the cop smashes his head in with a nightstick. Cop gets charged with brutality. Videotape shows dude making comments about cop's mother. Judge tosses the case out - dude used fighting words and deserved what he got.

Dennis Atkins
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

The Supreme Ct. case that established the doctrine is Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 US 568 (03-9-42).

Chaplinsky was a Jehovah's Witness passing out tracts. Police stopped him. He calls them facists and racketeers. They arrest him for disturbing the peace. Goes to the Supreme Court as a freedom of speech issue. They decide that calling someone a facist is 'fighting words' and that he has no freedom of speech in the matter and is lucky he didn't get his head bashed in.

Dennis Atkins
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

An idiot?

You filthy negro Dennis

Justin Johnson
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Well there you go showing your true self. I suspected as much.

Dennis Atkins
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Fight, Fight!

He who must goad
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

"An idiot?

You filthy negro Dennis"

I didn't post this.


I didn't say that people shouldn't stand up for themselves, I said that there are better ways to do it than taking advantage of the legal right to punch someone.

Just as a practical matter, what does it do for your relations with your coworkers and your boss when you've hit several people in the office because they've said things you didn't like?  How often do you have to walk out of a meeting because someone used an impoliteness before people start thinking "man, Dennis is really difficult to work with"?  When your boss is evaluating your performance, where does he write "hair-trigger temper makes every interaction difficult"?

If someone called me a filthy negro, I'd go to HR, and if that person wasn't punished, or if this was the third time he'd said something like that and he wasn't fired, I'd sue the company.  Either way, I'd still have my job and my dignity.

Justin Johnson
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Justin and Dennis:  please take your personal grudge elsewhere- ie, off the board.

You don't need to "stand up for yourselves" because nobody cares.  You're just wasting bandwidth and polluting an otherwise-informative through with your off-topic arguing.

Do the right thing and take it up with eachother via email.  Thank you.

John Rose
Tuesday, January 13, 2004


Feel free to email me if you'd like to continue this discussion.

Justin Johnson
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

----"It didn't seem to have a noticeable effect on his work, however."----

So what's the problem; if he was a tube driver, or a bus driver, or worked in a factory or workshop with dangerous machines you might have to consider taking some action. What's a developer going to do? Strangle himself or co-workers with his mouse cable ?(hint:- go cordless).

Marijuana, which is an hallucinogen, is one of the few drugs that is likely to affect his work. Doctors were more likely to be morphine addicts than any other section of society until the late 70's and it did not seem to adversely affect their work, and the use of cocaine was not limited to Sherlock Holmes or Sigmund Freud (luckily you won't be paying enough for him to be snorting coke all the time though, because one of its main effects is to make you think anything you produce is just the best thing ever, even though it's totally ordinary at the very best).

The UK government, and no doubt many others, is in the grip of hysteria over drugs, but public hysteria is a well established English tradition together with roast beef and tea and crumpets, so I'd ignore that point, unless you are the type who practises archery every Sunday, and makes a point on visiting the city of York to spear any marauding Scotsman you see (whilst at the same time ensuring you're not actually carrying with you anything, or a picture of anything, that could be construed as an offensive weapon).

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

I made the point about violence and the law because, Dennis, you brought it up as part of Common Law.  Common Law is the law where these is no statute (in most jurisdictions there's a statute for everything), precedent is something else.  Common Law derives from the original Anglo-Saxon Law, even if its within a state in the US.

The concept of 'fighting words' belongs to the 19th Century and was defined as something that an 'educated and cultured gentleman would consider as sufficient provocation for violence'.  However the first and only time that 'fighting words' was upheld as a conviction was sixty years ago, in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, the Supreme Court upheld for the first and only time a conviction for fighting words and made that doctrine a rare exception to the First Amendment's protection of free speech.

It belongs to an honour culture that doesn't exist anymore.

Simon Lucy
Wednesday, January 14, 2004

"When you get dragged into court on assault charges, its an allowable defense to point to the use of fighting words by the person you thumped."

* Bzzt * 

The "Fighting Words" doctrine in Chaplinsky only gives the police the ability to censor speech that is so inflamatory that it could provoke a fight.  (And it's a very narrow, and rarely used, exception to the First Amendment, as Stephen Jones pointed out.)  It doesn't give anyone a license to beat up someone else.

Robert Jacobson
Friday, January 16, 2004

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