Friday, May 9, 2008

Best of -- Lessons from Childrens' Lit

"Farmer Brown has a problem. His cows like to type. " So starts Click Clack Moo, Cows That Type, one of my soon to be two year old daughter's favorite books. In Click Clack Moo, Farmer Brown's cows and hens decide that they need electric blankets to keep warm at night in the barn. They deliver their demand to Farmer Brown on notes typed by the cows on a typewriter. When Farmer Brown refuses their demands, they go on strike, withholding milk and eggs. Ultimately, in a deal brokered by the duck, Farmer Brown agrees to accept the cows' typewriter in exchange for electric blankets. The labor dispute ended, and the cows and hens went back to producing milk and eggs. The deal backfired on Farmer Brown, though, as Duck absconds with the typewriter and leverages it into a diving board for the pond.

Click Clack Moo teaches us some valuable lessons:

  1. Fair Treatment: The best means to avoid collective action by your employees is to treat your employees fairly. The barn was cold, and the cows and hens perceived that they were being forced to work in intolerable conditions. When Farmer Brown refused even to consider any concessions, they went on strike. If you want your employees to work hard, not unionize, and not file lawsuits, treat them fairly. Maintain reasonable, even-handed work rules and policies. Apply them equally. Don't discriminate. There is no guarantee that you'll stay out of court, but if you end up there, you'll have a much easier time convincing a judge and a jury of the rightness of your decision if you are perceived as being fair, reasonable, and even-handed.
  2. Litigation is an Answer, But Not Always the Best Answer: Even in employment cases, where there are so many emotions in play on both sides of the table, it is only the most frivolous of cases that cannot not be resolved at some dollar figure. It is the job of the employer, working with its attorney, to strike the right balance between the cost of litigation and the cost of settlement. Convictions often get in the way, and often times litigation and trial is the only means to an outcome. But, you should always keep an open mind towards a resolution.
  3. Don't Go It Alone: When resolving any case, make sure all your loose ends are tied up in a tidy agreement. Farmer Brown missed this last point. A well drafted agreement that included Duck would have avoided the added expense of the diving board. If Farmer Brown had retained competent counsel, he could have potentially avoided the problem with Duck (who probably went to law school).