Elbow Room (2)

“Look out, here goes another,” muttered Ted. Room 2 had been named by the office staff because that was where the boss, Nigel, liked to deliver the parting shot. Angus had been with them for almost six months so he was ripe for plucking. Anything over six months meant that Nigel would have to make employment permanent and give the appropriate pay rise. Nigel didn’t do that.

Ted, Brian and Alice were permanent, having been employed before Nigel took over the Gaskin- Hodge Estate Agency three years ago. They were always busy so Nigel’s solution was to pretend that probationers were being trained for a permanent role, get them to do the donkey work and then sack them just in time. He had the next job advert ready to go out on the same day.

It was about two years ago when Ted cottoned on.

“Just look at the spring in Nigel’s step and the way he smiles at Carol (the then probationer), he just loves sacking people.”

Three days later the interview took place. The door to Room 2 closed and Nigel sprang out five minutes later, looking like a man refreshed. Alice went in to comfort another holder of dashed hopes and help pack up her things. Ted started thinking. Time for a chat with his friend Peter.

“I want to make the bastard squirm, at the very least,” he said. “But ideally I want to see him sacked on the spot.”

Peter was a solicitor, specialising in employment law and about to retire.

“So the job has just been advertised,” said Peter, “I wonder if I can act the part of a recent retiree who’s perfectly happy to do the donkey work, let’s see. I have an idea but I need to investigate some things before I share it. Tell me, what’s the going rate for a probationer?”

Interview day came and Peter turned up in an old but serviceable suit, said he just needed to get out of the house and offered to do the job for just above the minimum wage. Nigel almost licked his lips with excitement and asked him to start the very next day.

The work wasn’t difficult and Peter quite enjoyed doing unchallenging things for a change. Well he seemed to be doing basic office work but what he was really doing was researching just how profitable this particular branch of the Gaskin-Hodge agency really was. Over the next six months he got a good view of monthly income, staff costs, overheads for rent etc and he built himself quite an impressive spreadsheet.

Seven days before Peter’s six month stint was up, Nigel actually spoke to him.

“Had a good weekend Peter?”

“Er, yes thanks.”

“Did you do anything interesting, go anywhere nice?”

“No, it was just a quiet weekend in.”

“Oh well, if you enjoyed it.”

Nigel shuffled his papers to signify that the conversation was over.

Three days before the final day, Nigel asked Peter if he would step into Room 2 for a while.

“I’m afraid I have to terminate your employment. Today will be your final day.”

“But you said this was a probationary position,” said Peter. “Can you show me any evidence of performance reviews because, unless it slipped my mind, we haven’t had any?”


Nigel wasn’t used to being put on the spot.

“The point is,” said Peter, “You advertised this job as a probationary job, leading to permanent employment, all being well. You have never given even the slightest hint that my performance is less than acceptable so you may have advertised the job under false pretences. Oh, and to give you early disclosure of evidence in advance of litigation I should warn you that I have records of all past probationers, none of whom had a single performance review.

Nigel’s mouth opened but nothing came out.

Peter had just moved into second gear when there came a knock at the door.

“Not now,” squeaked Nigel.

The door opened anyway and in walked Ted, Brian and Alice, each bearing a single sheet of paper.

“I said not now,” said Nigel in a quiet, strained voice.

“Oh it doesn’t matter,” breezed Ted, “This is my letter of resignation”

“And mine,” said Alice.

“And here’s mine,” said Brian.

“But, but why?” Asked Nigel.

“You just like hurting the little guy too much,” said Peter. “You can, of course, insist that these good people work their statutory notice and you can, if you wish, take them to court. I’ll be pleased to represent them. Oh, did I mention that I’m a solicitor?”

Nigel’s mouth opened and closed again.

Peter was warming to this. “So, it’s like this: your office is unstaffed as of tomorrow morning. You’d better contact Head Office to let them work out how much pay is owing. If you want to go down the litigation route, I have enough evidence to show that you have been abusing the probationary system for years. Believe me, it will be a pleasure to use it.”

Today, Elbow Room Estate Agency is a small but thriving business run from Peter’s old office. Peter enjoyed his first year of retirement from being a solicitor more than he could ever have imagined and now he takes a small, fair profit from the new business to top up his pension.

Many of the clients of Gaskin-Hodge chose to move their custom to follow the threesome in their new venture and business has grown to the point where their probationer, Geoff, is about to be made permanent.

The old Gaskin-Hodge office is closed and dusty. Nobody knows what became of Nigel and nobody has thought to enquire.

Author: Ian

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