I’m a New England Patriots fan. I have been for almost 30 years. But growing up, I always cheered for the Minnesota Vikings because of family connections to the Twin Cities. So it was with great interest that I sat down yesterday to watch the Pats–Vikings game three weeks after the Patriots dealt star wide receiver Randy Moss to Minnesota for a third-round draft pick in 2011 and a bag of balls. Depending on who you listen to, Moss’s usefulness as a deep threat no longer fit an offensive scheme that was focused more on the running game and short passes. Others are convinced was he was shipped out of town because he criticized Tom Brady’s hair one too many times. Regardless of the real reason, Bill Belichick and the Patriots made the decision that the team would be better off without Moss. So off he went to the Vikings, the team that originally drafted him.
What happened yesterday? Moss caught one ball for eight yards and drew a defensive pass interference call that eventually led to a Vikings touchdown. Things went downhill from there. Moss showed up to his post-game press conference wearing a black Boston Red Sox cap and announced that he wouldn’t speak with the media for the rest of the season. He then went on to interview himself, praising the New England Patriots while essentially throwing the Vikings and their coaching staff under the proverbial bus. After literally saluting Bill Belichick and the Patriots, he walked off the podium and into the night.
So it really came as no surprise when I heard this afternoon that the Vikings had waived Moss, thus ending his brief return to the land of 10,000 lakes. It’s obvious that Minnesota had no use for a player whose heart and soul were still in New England, and it wasn’t about to pretend otherwise. Where Moss ends up for the remainder of the season is anyone’s guess at this point. As long as it’s not the Jets, I don’t really care.
What does all of this have to do with employment law? Maybe a little more than you think. It illustrates that when an employer makes a carefully reasoned decision to terminate an employee, it’s often best not to second-guess that decision. Rather, it’s in the interest of both the employer and the employee to cut ties as quickly and painlessly as possible so that both can move forward on positive paths toward future endeavors. By contrast, employers that fail to properly address problem employees frequently find themselves ensnared in a downward spiral that negatively affects productivity and employee morale (not just the employee in question, but everyone around him). Attitudes often become so polarized that when the employer finally terminates the employee, the first call the employee makes isn’t to a spouse, but to a lawyer. And even if the former employee doesn’t end up suing, there’s little to stop him from disparaging the employer to anyone who will listen. In this scenario, everyone loses. It should be clear, then, that decisive action by an employer often results in a much better outcome for both it and the employee.
So while the Patriots (6–1) and the Vikings (2–5) are heading in opposite directions this season, in my mind both are leading their respective conferences in how to properly handle a problem employee. The Patriots have already proven they can win without Moss. I’m guessing the Vikings will do no worse without him.