A few brews led an electrician to take on his Spanish company. Photo / Josh Olalde, Unsplash
As the sun sinks and winter rises it is important to seek out good news, news to thaw the frozen breast, even if we have to cross the world to find it. So let
us go then, you and I, to Murcia in southeast Spain where the summer heat can melt the roads. The news concerns an electrician.
He had worked for the same electrical company in Murcia for 27 years, which suggests that he is a man of modest ambition but a competent electrician and a reliable employee. But then, after all that time, the man was sacked.
Had he been late for work or seduced his boss’ daughter or joined a red wire to a black one and set fire to downtown Murcia? He had not. In the heat of the Spanish summer, he’d had a few drinks.
How many were a few? His employer spelled it out. On July 5 last year he stopped at a bar for a drink at 8.27 in the morning. At midday, he and a colleague washed their lunch down with four cans of San Miguel beer and a litre bottle of Estrella beer between them. Later that afternoon he drank two more cans of beer before driving a company van back to HQ at 6.30pm.
Some days after that he went for lunch with colleagues where he drank three glasses of red wine and a shot of brandy before returning to work in the afternoon.
Had his colleagues ratted on him? Not at all. Rather the information had been gleaned by a private detective employed by the electrical company to tail the man and report. And on delivery of the report, the man was sacked. After 27 years.
The good news here, however, is that he did not go quietly. Having his job and his reputation taken from him, not for any reason of incompetence, not for having caused death or injury, not for neglecting any aspect of his work, but for having a few drinks during the heat of summer, did not sit well with him. He took the company to court.
And to those of you who believe that the world is upside down, that it is going to hell in that curious contraption of a handcart, listen up: the electrician won. The High Court of Murcia, may the good lord bless it and keep it, decreed that the man had been wrongfully dismissed and that the employer must either reinstate him to his job or compensate him for its loss.
Now then, you’ll be surprised to hear that I am generally not in favour of drunk electricians.
But no one ever said the man was drunk. The detective observed no hint of drunkenness. No customer laid a complaint. Nor did his employers. They didn’t even accuse him of drinking during company time, acknowledging that he drank only during breaks in the working day.
What they sacked him for was, and I quote, “repeated and excessive alcohol consumption during the working day, which endangered his physical wellbeing and that of his workmates”.
Well, let us consider the workmates, several of whom drank with him and all of whom, it seems, continued to work and travel with him. There is no evidence that any of them felt endangered. And yet the company claims to have felt the danger on their behalf.
Then take the word “excessive”. Excessive is a judgment and an imprecise one. What is excessive drinking for, say, a 15-year-old schoolboy is unlikely to shift the behavioural needle for a 50-year-old sparkie. Yet the company claims to know what is excessive and is prepared to act on that claim.
But the worst of it, and the point of this essay, is that the company took it upon itself to determine what was or was not good for him.
Do you not see where that might lead us, indeed has already to some degree led us? Under the guise of protecting health and safety – the two most dangerous words in the modern lexicon – the company had declared itself a moral authority.
The man is a mature autonomous adult. They employed him to act as an electrician and so long as he did that competently that was as far as their interest should have gone. What may or may not have been good for him was quite simply none of their business.
So here in the frozen south, I raise a glass of tinto to the High Court of Murcia for recognising this truth, and to the anonymous electrician who stood up for it. I hope he took the cash and found a better boss.