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DES MOINES, Iowa -- A "firing contest" held by the owner of the Bettendorf, Iowa-based QC Mart convenience store chain led to a court hearing over unemployment benefits for workers who quit in protest, according to a report by the Des Moines Register.
Last March, William Ernst sent the following memo describing a new contest for all QC Mart employees:
"New Contest – Guess The Next Cashier Who Will Be Fired!!! To win our game, write on a piece of paper the name of the next cashier you believe will be fired. Write their name [the person who will be fired], today's date, today's time and your name. Seal it in an envelope and give it to the manager to put in my envelope.
Here's how the game will work: We are doubling our secret-shopper efforts, and your store will be visited during the day and at night several times a week. Secret shoppers will be looking for cashiers wearing a hat, talking on a cell phone, not wearing a QC Mart shirt, having someone hanging around/behind the counter and/or a personal car parked by the pumps after 7 p.m., among other things.
If the name in your envelope has the right answer, you will win $10 CASH. Only one winner per firing unless there are multiple right answers with the exact same name, date and time. Once we fire the person, we will open all the envelopes, award the prize and start the contest again.
And no fair picking Mike Miller from (the Rockingham Road store). He was fired at around 11:30 a.m. today for wearing a hat and talking on his cell phone. Good luck!!!!!!!!!!"
QC Mart Cashier Misty Shelsky and several other employees from her store, including the store manager, reportedly quit after realizing the contest was not a joke. "It was very degrading," Shelsky told the Register. "We looked at that, then looked at each other, and said, 'OK, we're done.'"
When Shelsky filed for unemployment benefits, Ernst challenged her claim by stating she had resigned voluntarily. A hearing was later held during which QC Mart Area Supervisor Anna DeFrieze testified that the contest was justified because employees had continually broken store rules such as not using their cell phones while on duty. Shelsky contradicted DeFrieze in her own testimony and stated that the former employees had resigned due to a hostile work environment. State records revealed that at least two QC Mart employees had complained about the contest to company managers, labeling it "bizarre and unprofessional," according to the report.
Following the hearing, Administrative Law Judge Susan D. Ackerman awarded Shelsky and the other former QC Mart employees their unemployment benefits, stating that "the employer's actions have clearly created a hostile work environment by suggesting its employees turn on each other for a minimal monetary prize."
No employee was reported to have won the contest.