Confession: Back to the Future is my favorite movie (though ask me in two months and I’ll probably say it’s actually Star Wars — employment lawyer’s prerogative).
So, how could I let “Back to the Future” day pass without an employment law-related post!
For those (strange) people who don’t know what I’m talking about — today’s the day that Michael J. Fox (or at least his character “Marty McFly”) travels to in “future” in the Back to the Future trilogy.
Most news outlets are focusing on the lack of hoverboards as a “failed” prediction on the future. (And the Cubs winning the World Series now seems a bit far fetched today too).
But something else that hasn’t been mentioned much — the workplace. There’s a notable scene in Back to the Future Part II in which an older Marty McFly engages in some type of illegal transaction on the evening of October 21, 2015. He scans a card — seemingly for a black market product.
Only problem? Marty’s boss — Ito Fujitsu — is monitoring the illegal scan. He immediately sets up a video telephone call with Marty at his home. And tells Marty he’s fired. To reinforce that fact, he sends Marty a fax reading “YOU’RE FIRED!!!” to all the fax machines in Marty’s house.
I remember watching this scene when the movie came out and two things still stand out: 1) It seemed pretty awful to fire someone via telephone call; and, 2) How cool is it that Marty had fax machines in bunch of different rooms!
(I also thought how strange it would be to wear two ties — thankfully that fashion trend went nowhere.)
Now that we’ve reached the date — how does it hold up?
Well, in some ways, not well at all. Fax machines are nearly extinct and no one has them in various rooms in their house.
But in other ways, I still think we feel the same way about firing someone “over the phone”, or now e-mail — it seems pretty harsh. Recall the outrage that people felt with Radio Shack laid off people via e-mail nearly a decade ago.
And so, one lesson we can still learn from the movie today? It’s still best to do important employment decisions in person.
And whatever you do, don’t send a fax saying “You’re Fired!!!” After today, that’s history.