So there’s been a lot of hoopla over a Microsoft call center employee who got fired for hanging up on a customer with an anti-semitic handle on his account. You can go read the story if you wish, the account is telling in a number of ways, but the discussion at BoingBoing (asit’s one might expect at BoingBoing) has been rather of the pearl clutching write-to-her-employer-and-complain variety. I should know better than to be surprised by this by now, but still, my immediate reaction was “Of COURSE she was fired.” – let me tell you why.
For a very long time, I worked at a music store. As with any service job, you quickly realize many people are jerks. Some of them are jerks to get a rise out of you, some of them can’t help it. Some of them are jerks to impress their pack. There is a diverse rainbow of jerkiness which you are exposed to, from the pretentious jerk (frequently purchased : quazi-obscure punk), to the wannabe thug jerk (frequently purchased : ‘hardcore’ rap), to the man hating jerks (frequently purchased : Paula Cole), woman hating jerks (again with the hardcore rap), jerks who hated black people (lots of metal heads, here, and the occasional country fan), and jerks who hated white people (You guessed it : hardcore rap) every imaginable kind of jerk was represented. My job was to sell music to them all. That was my entire job, it was not my job to judge them, or the crappy music they were buying. My job was to help them find it, and ring them up at the register. Simple. If you’re going to serve the public, you have to start with an understanding that many members of the public are jerks. Every imaginable hue of jerk. Even people who aren’t jerks to other people will frequently be jerks to retail employees, and do you know why?
Because it’s your job to take care of them anyway.
That’s not a job for everybody, and I have no problem with anybody who can’t deal with it. In fact, I know from training and managing people that LOTS of people can’t deal with that. Lots of them don’t know it until they’re in the situation. Fine. But if you fail to do your job, you’re going to get fired. Your job includes taking care of jerks. It really is that simple.
But this guy isn’t just a jerk, he’s a Nazi!
Maybe. Though if every guy who ever said a racist thing on an xbox console was actually a committed racist not just a socially maladapted twerp trying to get a rise out of people, the world would look pretty different. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of real life racists in the world, even a few proper neo-nazis, but I wouldn’t take somebody’s gamer handle as persuasive evidence that he’s anything but a dick. Even if he were a Nazi, your job is to take care of him. You do that job, or you don’t.
Nobody has a right to tech support if they’re offensive or awful human beings.
That’s true. Microsoft can decide not to serve them, unless they belong to a legally protected class. But shockingly, they haven’t given the authority to decide who deserves tech support to the folks manning the phone lines. Microsoft can decide not to serve anybody it likes, but if you take it upon yourself to decide for your employer when that isn’t your job, you can’t be surprised when they fire you for making decisions which are over your pay grade. Simple.
The operator is entitled to an act of conscience.
Absolutely. But the operator is not entitled to be shielded from the consequences of that act. If acts of conscience were without any sacrifice, they’d be easy. I’ve left jobs for ethical reasons before, and I’ve risked losing my job over ethical stands as well. It’s difficult, it sucks, but if you end up on the wrong side of it, you can’t pretend your employer was obligated to agree with you. They aren’t.
But this is hate speech! isn’t it our job to drive it out of public discourse?
As a phone tech support operator? No, it’s not. Of course not. You weren’t hired to do social activism on the clock, what the hell is wrong with you? You’re a representative of the company, be an activist on your own time. If you aren’t comfortable with the company’s ethics, you need to find another job. Easier said than done, I realize, but ethical choices are like that.
Hate speech should not be tolerated anywhere!
Balderdash. The solution to the expression of hateful, ludicrous, dangerous, harmful ideas is the expression of better ideas. Nobody ever killed a bad idea by turning it into a taboo.
If you don’t believe in the freedom to express offensive ideas, you don’t believe in freedom of expression.
If Microsoft decides its gaming network will not permit that kind of expression, I have no objection to that, it’s their network. They aren’t obligated to publish anything they don’t want to. But anybody who thinks the solution to bad ideas is suppression rather than counter argument needs to read more history and anybody who thinks hanging up on some twerp with an offensive handle on a computer game rather than transferring his call in a professional manner is some kind of victory for the forces of freedom and tolerance needs a tall cold glass of perspective.
But every little bit counts.
No, it doesn’t.
If the man is not a neo-nazi but just a twerp trying to get a rise out of people, he certainly won’t stop because tech support hangs up on him.
If the man is a neo-nazi, he certainly won’t stop because tech support hangs up on him.
At the end of the day, he’s the same jerk he was before the phone call. The stakes were never that high.
Your job is to take care of the customer, if you don’t do your job, they’ll fire you. How hard is this? Probably harder than you think, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get fired for screwing it up.