Are we entering the generation of the corporate snowflake, fragile and easily harmed? Earlier this month the province’s auditor general, Terry Paddon, released his report on the severance pay and pension handed out to former Nalcor Energy boss Ed Martin.
Martin, you may remember, left Nalcor in a confusing manner; first, it looked like he resigned. Then, it looked as if the board of directors had fired him so he would be eligible for the severance payout, which, combined with pension payouts, topped $6 million.
Well, Paddon’s take on the resignation/firing was an interesting one: Paddon argues that Martin was constructively dismissed — in other words, that a series of actions by the government meant that even if he quit, he was essentially forced to do so. How?
Well, the provincial government had indicated that it was concerned with the performance of Nalcor, given the amount of money the province had invested, and the lack of returns on that investment. Asked if they supported Martin’s work at Nalcor, government ministers chose to demur.
As Paddon outlined it, “Mr. Martin outlined the concerns he felt were having a negative impact on his reputation and on his ability to effectively do his job. These included … the comments in the budget speech, comments from the Premier to the media and, what Mr. Martin described as, the deafening silence from the Minister of Finance in response to media questions regarding government support for Mr. Martin.”
Paddon found that Martin gave Premier Dwight Ball two choices: either publicly support him, or Martin would leave.
We know how that turned out.
Put up your hand if, some time during your working life, a boss said that the company wasn’t satisfied with some aspect of your performance, or with the performance of some part of your division. It’s a function of working life: when things are going badly, superiors lean on subordinates for improvements.
When that happened, did you immediately qualify for millions in severance? Or did you just miss your chance?
You’re a student, grilling hamburgers at a fastfood restaurant, and your manager comes over and says, “Those aren’t cooked enough yet.”
Do you throw your spatula in air, head for the exit and expect a year’s pay?
Did you tell your supervisor that he had a choice: either he could offer his full support for your hamburger-cooking skills, or negotiate a severance package? Probably not.
Now, more power to Ed Martin in all this: if your employer wants to pay you millions of dollars for not working, by all means, feel free to take the money.
But for the rest of us, still working, Paddon’s argument that a lack of public support or a dressing-down is tantamount to being fired sounds just a little precious.