October 14, 2014

An Evangelical Employment Model: Working for Employer Punishments Instead of Employee Rewards

HAMMER OF GODIt is the weirdest employment arrangement I’m aware of.

My friend “Jebediah” (that being his preferred pseudonym), 50ish, has been working alone as a resident onsite independent building contractor at a remote logging road acreage in the Canadian wilderness, operating heavy equipment, pouring concrete, installing plumbing, laying foundations and building huge structures for almost five years for an employer who

– never pays him his full salary

– requires him to use much of what he does get paid to buy materials and supplies needed to complete the job (often requiring 24-hour back-and-forth trips in his truck to the big city suppliers)

– currently owes him about $20,000 in back pay

– constantly hurls awful, foulmouthed obscenities and insults at him

– ignores any references to back pay or reimbursement for the job expenditures

– threatens to replace him, despite the near completion of the main jobs, his first-rate work and total dedication to the tasks

– denies him access to basic amenities, such as the shower and toilet in the main house

– refuses to allow his girlfriend to join him on the big-enough premises, where he has been completely alone on about 10 acres for five years, except for resident cats, all of which have over the years been eaten by coyotes.

Despite the insane work conditions and physical resemblances (such as his regularly reappearing mountain man muppet beard) to Jack Nicholson’s possessed cabin-fevered caretaker character in the demonic thriller “The Shining,” Jebediah is not (yet) insane himself.

Nor is he hanging on to the “job” out of desperation or lack of alternatives. No, not at all. You see, Jebediah is not only a certified building tradesman who has pulled in and can still earn nearly $30,000 a month working at remote big construction projects in other provinces; he has also been a licensed financial consultant with $2,000 Armani suits hanging in the closet of his big-city apartment (now vacated). Derivatives, equities, hedge funds—you name it, he knows it all.

Jebediah’s Book of (the) Job

So how did Jebediah get into this fix and why is he still mired in it? Anybody else would have served notice, demanded payment in full or initiated litigation for the back pay, and started looking at the other plentiful opportunities elsewhere that would pay him scads more than even his full pay is supposed to be. Even though that’s precisely what I’ve advised him to do, he won’t.

His reasons? Previously, he committed to the job out of a longstanding, now defunct “friendship” with his increasingly erratic, perhaps now demented boss who seems to have gone over to the dark side and lost every vestige of gratitude and appreciation. He has persisted in the job because of his ethics — both personal and professional — and refuses to walk away from an unfinished job, despite the fact that not only is he not being paid, he’s also being viciously and routinely verbally abused and otherwise treated like the dirt he’s excavating with the loader he operates.

However, the strangest reason of all that he gives for continuing to stay on the job stems from his evangelical convictions: Jebediah believes that the Bible teaches that, in the end, wrongs will be righted and punished, with justice to prevail for the righteous and chastisement for the wicked. Hence, at this stage in his tribulations, Jebediah says he is confident there will be divine or karmic retribution and justice, not financial restitution.

A very decent guy who takes his religious convictions seriously, Jebediah is nonetheless not the overbearing, proselytizing Bible-on-the-sleeve type, nor is he the least bit vindictive and vengeful. Quite the opposite: His inherently gentle, tolerant, patient and trusting nature has, I believe, substantially contributed to his ending up in this mess.

However, he has has earnestly told me that he will continue to work without the pay to which he is entitled, with the expectation that, even though he may not get his earned cash reward, his boss will get his just desserts, in the form of divine or karmic payback. This means that Jebediah will tough out this job until it is completed and he has met all of what he perceives as his obligations related to achieving that, comforted by his belief that cosmic justice will prevail.

The Evangelical Employment Model

The moment he told me that, I was struck with a realization of what a strange employment model he is working with: working for employer punishments, not employee rewards. I’ve called this an “evangelical” model, but only because Jebediah’s Christian evangelical beliefs are what he cites as his rationale for it. It could also be dubbed a “Hindu” or “New Age” model to the extent that these belief systems emphasize karma or some notion of “what goes around, comes around” and a balanced moral ledger.

Other Cases?

A question both intriguing and relevant to ask is whether there are any less metaphysical, more practically-based applications and justifications for such an employer-punishment-based employment model. I believe the answer is yes, with one in particular springing to mind.

Consider the case of animal-rights organization infiltration, e.g., by Mercy for Animals, of meat processing plants for the purpose of obtaining incriminating video footage of animal cruelty. Like Jebediah’s case, the operative objective is not employee cash rewards, but justice in the form of employer punishment (to terminate the brutal practices). Whether for Jebediah it is a case of justice for justice’s sake or for Jebediah’s sake may be not be as clear-cut as in the instance of the Mercy for Animals clandestine filming, but it amounts to pursuit of justice in either case.

This animal-rights example reinforces the point that the employer-punishment priority is not essentially tied to an evangelical model, while nonetheless sharing a comparably ethically motivated, justice-focused mission with it.

I can think of one more possible overlap between Jebediah’s evangelical model and the animal rights model: if a film crew were to covertly film Jebediah’s boss ranting at and exploiting him and turn the film over to Jebediah’s trade union, if not also the media.

Read more in Workplace Ethics

Michael Moffa, writer for Recruiter.com, is a former editor and writer with China Daily News, Hong Kong edition and Editor-in-chief, Business Insight Japan Magazine, Tokyo; he has also been a columnist with one of Japan’s national newspapers, The Daily Yomiuri, and a university lecturer (critical thinking and philosophy).