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Fired for announcing the birth of his son

A few weeks ago, Drew Townson asked his boss at Mercenary Audio in Foxborough if he could start a blog on the company Web site. Boss said no, so Townson started his own blog (on, natch, Blogspot). Blog did not mention Mercenary at all. A month ago, his wife gave birth to their son, he posted a photo on the blog and a co-worker passed a link to the photo around. David Weinberger tells us what happened:

... His boss then fired Drew by leaving him a voicemail that Drew picked up when he got home from the hospital. ...

Weinberger has a few choice words for and about Mercenary.



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They probably want feedback from customers, but whatever!


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Something tells me that this has little or nothing to do with him having a blog - that is just the convenient official story.

This very likely has to do with the baby.

Specifically, health care costs of a family plan versus a single plan. Also, he's not going to be conveniently available any time the Mercenaries want him to be ... at least that is the perception.

Welcome to the world many women inhabit, dude. Pregnancies get women fired all the time. Hopefully, a subpoena of their interactions with their lawyers might turn up some evidence of hunting for a *legal* way to ditch somebody whose family obligations are seen to interfere with the bottome line.

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But I have heard (this does not make it true) that Massachusetts is an employee at will state and can terminate an employee at any time for virtually any reason. I don't know how this applies to this case, but it certainly doesn't help.

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Just as another case of perfectly legal but rampantly immoral firings has been making the news, outrage does not need a legal basis. I doubt Drew has a legal case, though you never know. The real issue is whether any customer would want to business with a company which treats their employees this way. Legal or not, this is very wrong and I would be uncomfortable giving a firm like this my business. If others feel that way, too, Mercenary will find they have a real problem on their hands.

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Yep, Massachusetts is an at-will state, but this really doesn't give employers as much leeway as you'd think. It's still considered wrongful termination if they do something like terminating someone for an offense that other people have done without being fired, for something they've never talked to the person about, or something that's not been communicated as an expectation. The AG's office actually doesn't require a hearing or anything to find wrongful termination (if you're only looking for unemployment and a letter to the company telling them to quit it).

When I claimed wrongful termination, the AG representative asked for a statement from me asking what their reason for termination was, then called the employer to verify that their story matched. I'd been allegedly terminated for turning in one progress note one day late in a healthcare setting, where we didn't have sufficient time allotted for paperwork. The AG rep agreed that this is pretty much the norm in healthcare settings and agreed that surely everyone else was turning theirs in late too. I told her I suspected I'd been terminated for refusing to falsify records and refusing to attend meetings on my unpaid lunch break. She gave me unemployment benefits for an indefinite period and sent them a letter telling them to quit asking people to falsify records and work off the clock.

I realize I probably had an easier time with this than the man at the audio place, since my setting is more regulated by the government. (It got shut down about six months later for falsifying records and underpaying people and whatnot...)


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Mr. Townson was dismissed for a variety of reason, the blog "Drewcifer's Tone Zone" http://drewciferstonezone.blogspot.com was merely the straw that broke the camel's back. I will give you the broad strokes in this blog entry.

Let me tell you a little about Mercenary Audio, then I will get into more detail about Mr. Townson's job performance.

Mercenary is a small company that has been around since 1989. We are an ethnically diverse, family oriented company that has 9 employees. Please feel free to visit our website http://www.mercenary.com read our policies http://www.mercenary.com/policies.html [which you will see are exceptionally customer friendly, and barely restrictive by any stretch of the imagination], as well as some of our informational articles [Police Blotter] http://www.mercenary.com/policeblotter.html and get a vibe for who we are, and what we do.

Prior to our 2 sales hires at the end of 2006 [Mr. Townson and another], and before the hiring of our two "intern/assistants" [who are there to learn the discipline of audio recording techniques] the person with the least time on the job had been there 6 years. The person with the next least time on the job has been with the company for 11 years. Our shipping and receiving person has been with us for 15 years [a job position with notoriously high turn over].

Mr. Townson was dismissed for excessive absenteeism, failure to meet the continuing educational requirements we expect and demand from our staff, misuse of company time and resources, attempting to create divisiveness among the staff, and finally, the insubordination of creating a blog that references "professional audio tools and techniques" [which is in direct conflict to the goals of the company].

Our company is unique in that it requires our key staff, especially the sales staff, to be up to date on the tools and technology involved in the recording of music. To this end we have built a well equipped audio recording control room so our staff can use the tools they discuss in sales matters. The idea behind this control room is to have our sales staff be educated about the tools they discuss from an applications perspective. Hence the studio is called "The Methods and Applications Laboratory". Our sales staff is mandated to spend a minimum of four [4] hours per week working in this area, those four hours may be spent during "company time" though most choose to spend their time in that room "after hours". Mr. Townson spent less than 4 hours per month expanding his education in this room.

Mercenary Audio never had a "sick day/time off" policy prior to the hiring of Mr. Townson. However, it seemed that as soon as Mr. Townson was hired there was a parade of "sick days", and personal days, which caused the management to begin a log of his days not in the office. Prior to the creation of this log our policy had been "if you need time off, take it", until Mr. Townson abused that policy. Mr. Townson was informed prior to joining the company that travel would be mandatory for trade shows, client demonstrations, and further education. This requirement extends to every employee at Mercenary Audio who is directly involved with the equipment we sell, be they in the marketing department, sales department or management. When assigned to attend a trade show and educational event in September, 2006; Mr. Townson declined to attend, leaving the company with a staffing shortage at this show, which required us to not only scramble to rearrange who would stay at the office and who would travel to San Francisco, but also damaged our ability to meet with various manufacturers, expand our relationships with those manufacturers, and discover new companies whose ethos was on par with Mercenary's goals.

Now I will address the blog entry. Let me start out by mentioning that two of our other employees have their own personal blogs, and we have absolutely no problem with the existence of these blogs, in fact, there are entries in their blogs where they are blowing off steam about the company! Mercenary Audio has its own "MySpace" page, we are not "anti-blog" by any stretch of the imagination.

We did take umbrage to Mr. Townson's blog for the following reasons. At one point Mr. Townson asked Mr. Fitz [Mercenary's C.O.O.] if he could start an educational blog about professional audio. Mr. Fitz said he may not start such a blog. He then asked me [Mercenary's C.E.O.] if he could start such a blog ["going over Mr. Fitz's head"], I too responded in the negative. Yet if you look at the blog, the very first line at the top of the page says: "Mics, Drums, and Rock & Roll: A Music Recording Blog!" That says "conflict of interest" to me, what does it say to you?

The majority of the time stamps on the blog entries were posted during company hours. Our "shop" is open from 10a Eastern Time to 6p [18:00] eastern time. During that time we are somewhat flexible as to what may be done with the time. Playing with the equipment in "The Methods and Applications Laboratory" is encouraged. Researching other audio related websites is encouraged. Viewing sites like CNN's, and "Boston.com" is tolerated. Mr. Townson also used that time to create the beginnings of a children's clothing line, which was also tolerated. The creation of an 'outlaw recording tools and technique' site was intolerable.

Further to that, Mr. Townson told several members of the Mercenary Audio staff about the existence of the blog, with strict instructions not to let either Mr. Fitz or myself about the existence of the blog, creating an air of divisiveness among the staff. They capitulated, but because we have a "family atmosphere" at Mercenary forgot the request when the picture of the child was posted on the blog. This was how Mr. Fitz came to learn of the blog. He held onto this information for several days before showing me the blog. Upon seeing the blog I sat with it for a day or two to let my temper cool before acting. It was at that point that Mr. Fitz, myself, and our Human Resources person met to decide a course of action.

Did the timing of his dismissal absolutely suck? Yes, it most certainly did. Had Mr. Townson's son not arrived only days earlier there would have been no "cooling off" period and he would have been instantly dismissed upon the discovery of "the blog". Yes, I dismissed Mr. Townson via telephone. No, he was not home when I called, so yes, he was fired on a voicemail. We discussed the matter later in the day when Mr. Townson called the office later to determine if this was "a joke" or not [it wasn't], and while we did not discuss the other matters at length. A proper letter of termination was subsequently drafted and sent to Mr. Townson.

When one act is the final catalyst to the end of the road it is often picked as a minor violation to which the reaction was inproportionate to the act. However, if you add up all the previous acts and trasgressions, you end up with what we deemed "just cause".

As always, YMMV.

Mercenary Audio
"this is not a problem"
Mercenary® reg US Pat & TM off.

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Bullshit! Mercenary Audio is gaining quite a reputation for its sketchy employee relations. To fire a person on the day his child was born --and over the phone too, showing no balls-- is just downright low.

I'm regretful I've ever done business with you. That's about to change!

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It's quite obvious that Mercenary is a small, family owned company as Fletcher describes. If part of a larger company, Fletcher would understand better perhaps that nobody is required to explain anything, especially in the matter of employee/employer relations. Fletcher's probably already offered more of an explanation than the situation deserved.

The fellow fired, obviously never figured out how to please the people he worked with and FOR. They PAYED him to be VALUABLE to THEM and he was NOT, end of story. That's the lesson here, and if the former employee learns something from it, then he's ahead of the game. He won't though, since in his world, everyone else is always to blame for what goes wrong.

Mercenary Audio offers a wide selection of great products at competitive prices AND has VERY knowledgeable staff. It is because of THAT that people will continue to HAPPILY do business with them. Mercenary staff can be found routinely participating in professional audio discussions on the internet, both adding value to those discussions by answering questions and offering opinions, as well as staying in touch with the industry for Mercenary Audio. Their opinions and experience seems to well be respected by their peers. These seem to be motivated audio professionals, which HAS to be a great asset for Mercenary Audio continued success. It just seems that unfortunately the former employee was just not a good fit for Mercenary, but that situation has now been rectified and Mercenary can find a replacement that will better serve their goals.

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John Cass gets the company's side (basically the same as what you can read above) and adds his thoughts.

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Go here to see Mr. Townson's side.

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Gotta say, after reading both sides... I gotta go with Drew on this one. Seems waaaaaaaaaaaaay lame to treat someone like that. I'm having a hard time even figuring out the "real" reason behind all this stuff... but I suspect it has to do with Fletcher's (clearly) A-type personality... anyone who rubs him the wrong way is automatically in the wrong. I dunno... just sounds way sketchy to me.

Bummer... Mercenary seemed like a cool company until I heard about this. Oh well, there are other gear dealers out there.


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If the story is only half true - I mean the version submitted by the CEO - then both are now better off...

To have that much flexibility with your job - carried some professional and personal responsibility. To refuse travel to a trade show, to conduct a personal blog during company hours - to not keep up with technology so that you continued to be a valuable resource to customer and company.

A large company could get by with some dead weight - a small company sinks. Both are better off - each can now, once again find what they are looking for - one wants a sales leader, and one wants a place to wish dreams come true. I'll let you decide who is trying to find what...

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