Canned over a tuna fish sandwich: Employers use any excuse (and the recession) to lay off workers

Anyone who has worked in food service knows that any day-old goods are up for grabs. I've heard of people feeding their whole families on leftovers brought home from work. And once it does go to the trash, it's often picked up by dumpster divers. And why not? Better to feed someone than let it go to waste.


Not according to Whole Foods. Ralph Reese, 57, of Queens, New York, set aside one tuna fish sandwich from 30 unsold ones, that he tossed into the trash. When a supervisor asked him why the sandwich was on the counter, Reese said he planned on eating it. The supervisor threw the sandwich in the trash and two days later Reese was fired for misconduct, meaning Reese couldn't apply for unemployment benefits.

Whole Foods cited lame company policy, that employees get 20% off food, and are encouraged to try samples, but that this must all be carefully monitored. When it comes down to it, trash is trash. And perhaps they should change their policy to send that "trash" to a homeless shelter, as many bakeries and eateries do around the city.Reese took his case to court, where a judge ruled in his favor. Because he hadn't stolen any food, or eaten any food, he wasn't charged with misconduct. He started receiving his unemployment benefits two weeks ago.

While Reese's story is outrageous, it's a hint at a larger problem facing American workers. Many employers are using the recession as an excuse to lay off workers. People are being fired over the smallest things, or being let go, all in the name of keeping the business alive. Reese's lawyer, Elizabeth A. Shollenberger told the NYT, that her office, Queens Legal Services, was seeing more and more cases where unemployment claims were disputed. "A lot more people are getting fired for very minor reasons," she said, a phenomenon seen across the country. "What we are seeing is that they are firing people for 'misconduct' when what they are really doing is downsizing and it's an attempt to not pay benefits." Cases like this in her office have risen from three to four a week last year, to now 15 to 20 cases a week.


Whole Foods has reported a loss of 17% from the year-earlier quarter due to decreased sales and legal fees. (Legal fees...hmmm...lawsuit Mr. Reese?) Being on the witch hunt for employees is an easy way to lay them off, and fault them into not paying benefits. But even companies that aren't hurting are using the economy as an excuse to get rid of people they're not fond of. A friend told me he found out that he was let go for not hugging the CEO. Although the company was doing very well, they used the recession as an excuse. Another friend was let go when his entire company was restructured. While they had been meaning to replace the people in charge for awhile, the economy was a perfect way to move things along.

Were you let go for a minor reason? Can you beat the case of the tuna fish sandwich? Tell us your story below.

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