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'$10 if You Guess Who Will Be Fired Next'

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. | Last updated on

An Iowa administrative law judge has blasted QC Mart convenience store owner William Ernst for operating a "firing contest."

Ernst announced the contest in a chain-wide memo sent to his employees. He encouraged them to predict which cashier would be fired next. The winner would earn $10, and the contest would start anew.

His plan was to whip his employees into shape, but instead he's ended up paying for their voluntary unemployment.

A number of QC Mart employees quit after realizing that the firing contest was not a joke, reports the Des Moines Register. They then filed for unemployment, which William Ernst appealed.

The judge ruled that the employees were eligible for unemployment because Ernst had created a "hostile work environment." The firing contest was "egregious and deplorable," and made it intolerable to work.

Ordinarily, unemployment insurance is not available to workers who voluntarily leave their jobs. However, many states will grant benefits when an employer causes an employee to quit.

An employee must generally prove that an employer did something so intolerable that any reasonable person would have quit. There may also be proof that an employer intended to compel an employee to leave the job.

Examples include discrimination, retaliation, abject humiliation, and of course, firing contests.

Speaking of which, William Ernst claims that he was simply trying to get his employees to follow the rules, notes the Register. Secret shoppers were to troll QC Mart locations and report violations. Ostensibly, the firing contest would further encourage compliance.

Editor's note: The seventh paragraph was updated to clarify what constitutes "cause" in an unemployment insurance benefit setting.

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