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TOUGH CALL: Conflicting Stories

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As a second-generation owner of your family’s lumberyard, you couldn’t be more proud of what your team continues to accomplish. Yours is not the biggest yard in your market, nor is it the smallest. The best part: your company is comprised of what you truly believe to be the best team in your market, by a wide margin. They work hard and smart, are always open to learning better ways of doing things, and last but not least, they’re punctual and honest. In fact, without the team you have in place, you’re not sure that you’d be comfortable going on an annual vacation with your family.

Now, something has happened that threatens to disrupt your work family, and you’re struggling to figure out what to do. Here’s the story:

Ben is a delivery driver who’s been with the company for more than eight years. At 6’6” and weighing in at a good 300 lbs., Ben’s sheer size can make him look rough and intimidating. Yet once you start talking to him, or better yet, once you get to know him, it quickly becomes clear that he’s soft spoken, and as kind as can be. In fact, coworkers call him Gentle Ben. While he’s easily the biggest guy on your team, he’s also the most peaceable. It’s all of these details combined that make the following accusations that much harder to swallow.

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Ben was at a jobsite, waiting for his turn to unload his products when he struck up a conversation with Stewart, a fellow driver from a competing yard who was also waiting. Though they work for competing firms, Ben and Stewart have been friends for years. While they were waiting to unload their trucks, the old friends were talking and goofing around next to a load of lumber on the ground. Suddenly, Stewart was lying on his back on the ground, passed out. It’s here that the stories conflict.

“Stew and I were talking about an illegal hit at last night’s hockey game,” Ben recalls. “I was trying to show him what I think really happened, and why it shouldn’t have been called an illegal hit at all. We were getting a little rough, but that’s what we do. Next thing I know, Stew tripped over some lumber and hit his head hard on the driveway. When I saw he was falling, I reached out to try to catch him, but it was too late. I feel just awful.”

The version told by the workers at the jobsite is very different. “These two drivers appeared to be having a friendly conversation, when it suddenly turned violent. The big guy pushed the other one backwards over the lumber, and the other guy didn’t stand a chance. His head hit the driveway solid.”

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In the days since the mishap, your competitor (who’s not nearly as friendly as his injured driver) has collected statements from guys on the jobsite who think they saw something that wasn’t an accident, and has spread dirt about your company. He’s also threatening to sue, but agreed not to, provided you agree to one demand: you have to fire Ben.

What would you do?

1. FIRE BEN. Even though you believe Ben 100%, you simply don’t have the financial depth to weather a lawsuit. It’s not fair, but you have no choice.

2. FIRE BACK. Tell your competitor that it was an accident, and that Ben wouldn’t hurt anyone—especially a friend. If it goes to court, so be it.

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3. MONEY TALKS. Tell your competitor that you’re not going to fire Ben, but that you will cover half of the medical expenses that resulted from the accident.

4. IGNORE IT. Guys will be guys, and the only thing Ben is guilty of is having some extra time on his hands at the jobsite.

What would you do?

Something else?
If you’d take a different plan of attack, email your suggested solution to

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