by David Bates

This week I’m writing my blog from the Westin Moana Surfrider hotel in Waikiki. There are certainly worse places in the world I could be, and I’m very grateful to my team – and to 21st century technology – for making it possible for me to spend some time away from Sydney’s winter this week.

That said, I’ve spent a great deal of time over the past few days thinking about the incredible differences between American employment laws and our own. This was really brought home to me while watching a (quintessentially American) TV program called Undercover Boss that involves senior company managers pretending to be everyday employees in their businesses to find out what workers really think.

In this particular episode, the National Brand Manager of a major fast food chain pretended to be a trainee entering a competition (to explain the presence of the cameras). While most of the employees she encountered were positive, hard-working, and dedicated to the business, one told her ‘how much he hated their customers’ while being openly rude to a number of people placing their orders.

The ‘undercover boss’ probed a little deeper to make sure this wasn’t just an isolated opinion expressed on an unusually bad day. It wasn’t. The employee went on to say that he hated the company, hated his colleagues, hated his work, and hated customer service. But he kept the job because it was easy.

The Boss’s solution? She let him go. She explained he wasn’t a good fit for the business, had a bad attitude, and wasn’t good with people. And that was that. His colleagues were thrilled he was gone, customers received better service, and the employee reconsidered his conduct and moved on.

Contrast this with our laws. If this episode had been filmed in Australia, that employee would now be busy filing an unfair dismissal claim, or claiming ‘adverse action’, or lodging a bullying claim, or applying for workers’ compensation on the basis of stress and anxiety. And months later he’d probably receive ‘go-away’ money from the exhausted ex-employer who has spent a fortune defending their actions while the ex-employee spent $70(ish) on a one-off filing fee and then received free legal advice.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not saying Americans have got it all 100 per cent right. Over here there is still no true universal health care for all employees, none of the guaranteed ‘safety net’ entitlements we (quite rightly) take for granted, and the minimum wages can be pitiful too. Australia could teach the Americans a thing or two about all those.

But when it comes to employment flexibility, making sure the right people are in the right jobs, and getting rid of ‘bad apples’, the Americans seem to be way in front.