10.18.2011

A Quick Lesson in Business PR: Help Your Dying Employees

I have to offer some completely unsolicited advice to Time Warner Cable: when one of your employees slumps over dead, don't tell people to ignore it and go back to work.

Sadly, this advice comes too late for a customer service call center in Ohio, where 67-year-old Julia Nelson slumped over at her desk. When a co-worker realized she wasn't breathing and started performing CPR in an attempt to resuscitate Nelson or keep her alive until EMS could arrive, a supervisor told her to "get back on the phone and take care of customers." Another supervisor allegedly chimed in that the employee performing CPR could be sued if something went wrong.

Uh, what?


First things first: the "you could get sued" thing is a (sadly) legitimate concern for some people, although not appropriate in this case because Ohio has a Good Samaritan Law on the books which protects you from legal action if you're trying to help save a life and they die anyway. Yes, it's an absolutely disgusting indictment of our society that you can be sued for trying to save someone's life and failing whereas letting them flop on the floor like a fish is the legally defensible position. But that's for another blog post.

Also for another blog post is the fact that there was medical equipment on site that might have helped save Nelson's life: a portable defibrillator unit was hanging in a first aid room down the hall, but the door was locked.

Uh, what the fuck?

So we have two pretty huge strikes against Time Warner Cable: not making their first aid station available to employees (and I'm not a lawyer, but isn't that illegal and against the whole point of first aid stations?) and worrying more about a lawsuit than trying to save an employee's life. Except I'm wondering if they were worried about the lawsuit at all. Because that doesn't seem to be what the first supervisor was worried about. "Get back on the phone" doesn't come across as protecting an unknowing-employee from potential (yet not applicable in this case) legal ramifications. "Get back on the phone" sounds more like putting the value of a cable customer over that of a human life. And that's pretty horrific, Time Warner Cable.

Odds are if you haven't worked in a hellish job, you did at some point; and no job inspires cringe-worthy stories of "you are just a cog in the machine" corporate warlording like call center work. Yes, there are way worse jobs. Yes, coal miners and oil workers and the like have it worse. But I think more Americans can relate to, have worked in, or at least know of someone in a call center job. They are a separate circle of hell on earth. And I'm 100% certain that everyone who works or has worked in that environment knows of a supervisor who would try to get you back on the phones while you're busy performing CPR.

Time Warner, for their part, has expressed their condolences while mentioning that everyone acted accordingly. Just to clarify: the paramedics showed up and found an employee on the ground, not breathing, with no one performing CPR or administering any help whatsoever and Time Warner has stepped up to the plate and said that the staff "responded appropriately" and that they have "procedures in place to respond to emergencies." Maybe the procedural manual was locked up next to the defibrillator.

If your company offers CPR or First Aid training, why not take it? You never know when it's going to come up, and I feel like it's definitely in the "Better to Have and Not Need" category of skills. If your company doesn't, there's probably a Red Cross or something similar nearby that will. If your co-worker keels over and your boss tells you to get back to work, do me a favor and tell your boss to shove it.

And if you're a Time Warner Cable customer, just know that your monthly bill definitely isn't going toward improving employee morale.

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