Staff disappearances often remain mysteries

Maybe it’s because I haven’t worked in many offices in my 20 years. Or maybe it’s because movies like Jerry Maguire fooled me into believing that every employee’s farewell is public and theatrical.

It turns out I was wrong on both counts. In fact, there wasn’t so much as a memo, quick phone call or brief email notifying the staff of an employee’s departure.

So when my co-workers began disappearing without explanation, I was confused, to say the least. What I initially assumed to be a couple sick days here and there turned into full-fledged mysteries of permanent absence that drove me to break out my trench coat and magnifying glass. All too often, the search for well-substantiated evidence behind these cases of backdoor exits ended fruitlessly.

The most perplexing of all disappearances involved one of my dearest co-workers, whom we’ll call Joe College, for he was the only other university student at the law firm. From the get-go, Joe College had a spotty attendance record: After his first day of work, he didn’t show up the next three days. When he returned the following Monday, he made no mention of a weekend getaway or family emergency that might have justified a lengthy absence for a newcomer.

When Joe College managed to make it into work, he would stay late to do one of the P-90x workout DVDs that were quite popular with my co-workers. In one casual lunch conversation, he suggested I work out at the office gym at 5 p.m. to avoid rush hour traffic.

While I was changing into my gym clothes, I realized I had forgotten socks. I felt like I should give him a heads-up and admitted to my inadequate footwear. He laughed and told me not to worry, so I carried on with my workout.

Fifteen minutes into the workout, Joe left suddenly without saying or waving goodbye as he usually did. Being the neurotic person I am, I automatically assumed he left to escape the offensive stench emanating from my sockless feet.

When he didn’t show up for work the next day, I realized that there was no way my sweaty feet were to blame for his ongoing truancy problem. Days turned into weeks and other people, even those who worked on different floors, started wondering what happened to “that guy” (he wasn’t even around long enough for people to commit his name to memory). If anyone dared to inquire about the missing person, Human Resources would offer a vague response — something about him being under the weather but nothing too serious, of course.

One of my favorite rough-around-the-edges secretary was convinced he had soiled his pants that day at the company gym and was too humiliated to ever show his face again. Did he quit? Was he fired? Was he too sick to come back? All we know is that he wasn’t too sick to deny my friend request on Facebook.

During my penultimate week at the law firm, the aforementioned secretary was fired. This, however, was less shocking because her in-office conduct teetered on unprofessional and disobedient.

I waved goodbye to her on a Monday evening, and the following Tuesday morning I saw Human Resources cleaning off her desk. At first, I thought they were disinfecting the area because she had recently been sick. But when I noticed people carrying boxes of files out of her cubicle, I knew she was a goner. As secretaries in the neighboring cubicles craned their necks to get a look at the move-out process that was well underway, rumors started circulating.

From here on, I will refer to her as “Megan Fox,” not because she was a megawatt hottie with acting chops, but because she was the proud owner of 13 tattoos and a mouth fit for a sailor.

There were a million reasons Megan Fox should have been fired before — wearing a denim skirt with a much-too-high slit, screaming matches with co-workers and engaging in frequent, uninhibited chitchat of a sexual nature. In spite of all of this, she was a good secretary.

And I, the lowly file clerk, wasn’t the only one who didn’t receive confirmation as to which of her many violations acted as the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Even the attorneys she worked for were unsure as to what, after two years of misbehavior, finally gave Human Resources the push it needed to issue a pink slip to Megan Fox.

Offices often put forth considerable effort in greeting new employees by giving them individual tours of the workspace and hosting a meet-and-greet breakfast so the newbies can mingle with the old-timers.

Why then are their departures — voluntary or otherwise — swept under the rug? Surely not to respect the dearly departed’s privacy; not providing co-workers with a legitimate reason only gives way to gossip and worst-case scenario explanations. And if it’s to make the administration look better — to highlight the good and gloss over the bad — then they could use a grade-school reminder that honesty is the best policy.

That’s not to say co-workers deserve a detailed explanation of why a person was let go — in fact, that’s probably protected as confidential by law. A simple “So-and-so is no longer with the firm” would do just fine.

In the case of Under Wraps v. Out in the Open, it is the judgment of this columnist that a company should be sentenced to a lifetime of embittered office personnel should they choose to disguise, rather than disclose, any and all employment decisions.

Kelsey Borresen is a junior majoring in print journalism. Her column, “Laugh-Idavit,” runs Mondays.

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