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The Computer says “You’re fired”.

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(Cross-posted from my IT testing blog, Probe probare.)

There’s been some little kerfuffle online over this story from the wonderful world of corporate HR systems:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-44561838

And here’s the guy’s story in his own words:

https://idiallo.com/blog/when-a-machine-fired-me

Although it’s an example from the USA, it has relevance here in the UK even though employment law is rather different on this side of the water. (This post is written specifically from a UK perspective.) The problem was perhaps not so much the procedure itself (though I shall return to that later); it was the fact that various people tried to unwind that procedure but the system wouldn’t permit it. And there was no good reason for the original supervisor not to renew the contract (though it does suggest an area where the company’s HR policies were not aligned with business needs).

The OP makes the point that what eventually happened was that he was dismissed and then eventually re-hired after the termination process was completed. Nonetheless, that really shouldn’t have happened under those circumstances; it left the OP out of pocket and also involved him in reputational damage. The system design was based on 1) an assumption that any decision to terminate is automatically correct and unchallengeable, and 2) in any termination process, there are a series of steps to be taken that have to be taken without any option for challenge at the operational level – i.e. the security team were under a three-line whip from the system to escort the OP off the premises, even though they had had conversations with other managers and knew that there was an issue with the process that the management team were trying to reverse.

This, of course, is a real-life illustration of the Milgram experiment, where any instruction from an authority figure is complied with, no matter how unreasonable. It’s funny how often that seems to be borne out in experience.

Someone commented to me that perhaps there was an underlying issue with the OP’s attitude and the possibility of their posting rude blogs online. Personally, I think Ibrahim Diallo’s blog was completely fair and justified, and at no point does he name the company where this occurred (though some who commented accurately identified them based on their own experience). Interestingly, the risk of disparaging blogs doesn’t seem to have been considered in system design as there was no provision made to generate a non-disclosure agreement on contractor exit!

The use of the words “fired” and “job” reflect common usage rather than strict legal definitions, though it also has some bearing on the long-running debate on the status of workers in the gig economy going all the way back (for us in the UK) to the Inland Revenue’s original implementation of IR35. The thing is that there is little indication that the process would be any different for a contracted employee. The omission of a renewal action by a disgruntled supervisor would never be an admissible reason for dismissal – it certainly wouldn’t come under the heading of “some other substantial reason” for dismissal which is the catch-all reason in UK employment law which is automatically assumed to be fair. And if such a system caused such a “cascade dismissal” of a contracted employee, it might render the company liable for action, not only in an Employment Tribunal, but also in a civil court for consequential loss for putting in place a system which actually circumvented accepted procedures (although the ACAS code of practice on discipline leading to dismissal isn’t statutory, I doubt a court would take a favourable view of a system that ignored established custom and practice in such a well-established legal area).

From a system testing point of view, this entire incident illustrates areas where testers should have had greater involvement at the design stage, in challenging issues such as “is it possible to back out of the process once it has been initiated?” or “Does this actually comply with employment law?” (and hence the underlying question, “What’s the worst that can happen to us – the company – if this goes badly wrong?”). There certainly seems to have been a distinct lack of risk analysis when this system was being defined and designed; and any concerns raised by testers that may have been raised seem to have been ignored. And that’s a valid challenge to make, irrespective of variations of legal practice in different jurisdictions.

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Written by robertday154

June 27, 2018 at 12:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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