McChrystal Needs Employment Law Primer

General Stanley McChrystal has gone from being the military savior of a nation to the disgraced poster-child for “lack of judgment” in a matter of months.  What went wrong?

Let me suggest that it is this:  Any employee worth her/his salt knows that the primary function of any job is to make the boss look good.  Can President Obama fire McChrystal for having made unflattering comments to a reporter?  In Washington state, the answer would be, “Yes.”  Even if those comments were made off the job site, after hours, and were merely McChrystal’s opinions?  Again, in Washington state, the answer would be “yes.”

Both employers and employees approach our firm with questions about where the line should be drawn between respecting an employee’s right to express opinions, make suggestions, and offer constructive criticism versus behavior that is negative, lowers morale, and is viewed as insubordination.  Uniformly, we advise clients (both employers and employees) as follows:

1.  It is the employee’s job to make the boss look good;

2.  Sometimes, the boss needs to be told difficult truths for the longer and larger objective of protecting the boss, and the company, from the boss’s own behavior;

3.  If the employee sincerely was advising the boss of difficult truths in order to serve the company’s larger goals and interests, the company should take into account that “slaying the messenger” is not always the smart thing to do, no matter how tempting.  HOWEVER, absent an illegal motive (such as racial, sexual, disability or other discrimination), bad management and poor business choices remain — largely — completely legal.

General McChrystal should have known what even most entry-level employees know:  you are expendable, and if you make your boss look bad, then your excellent job performance cannot alone save your job.  In this case, possibly cannot even save your career.

This summary is not intended to be legal advice. You should consult an attorney in regard to your particular situation.