The curious case of Ima Shyster


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The curious case of Ima Shyster 

According to the FBI, approximately 1 person in 100 is psychopathic. 

Thought I’d share that little factoid to really brighten your day.

The American Psychiatric Association paints a slightly darker picture, pegging the incidence of psychopathy at 3%. Carl Jung, famous psychologist, stated that “for every manifest case of insanity there are, in my estimation, at least 10 latent cases who seldom get to the point of breaking out openly but whose views and behavior, for all their appearance of normality, are influenced by unconsciously morbid and perverse factors”.  

Among the indicators, according to the FBI, is “a profound lack of remorse for their aggressive actions, along with a corresponding lack of empathy for their victims. This central psychopathic concept enables them to act in a cold-blooded manner, using those around them as pawns to achieve goals and satisfy needs and desires. Most psychopaths are grandiose, selfish sensation seekers who lack a moral compass—a conscience—and go through life taking what they want. They do not accept responsibility for their actions and find a way to shift blame to someone or something else.”

If you have between 50 and 100 coworkers, there’a statistically significant probability that you could be sharing office space with a Dexter persona. Or perhaps that statistical outlier is your neighbor, or even your kids’ Sunday school teacher.

Ima Shyster 

Job-hopper Ima Shyster is on the prowl for a new victim, and luckily for you, her sights are set on your company. Ima’s a trifle eccentric, and when she’s not scouring the job boards, she enjoys studying human rights legislation and collecting medical diagnoses. Recently, Ms.Shyster paid a visit to her malleable and harried family doctor, a pleasant man willing to diagnose her with just about anything. In ten minutes flat, Ima exits the clinic happy as a clam, the proud new owner of yet another mental disorder.

Ima’s no dummy. She’s self-possessed and interviews well, so well in fact, that your HR manager turns a blind eye to Shyster’s complete lack of work references. Ima negotiates a lucrative salary with full benefits and is hired the same day. And Ima wastes no time turning on the charm, gliding through the office, bewitching her coworkers with poised self-assurance and intense eye-contact.  

Will the real Ima Shyster please stand up 

As the weeks roll on, Ima’s personality undergoes a profound change. The darling of the office suddenly becomes dark, dour, humourless. The startling change makes everyone nervous and uncomfortable, even her manager, who begins avoiding her as a result.  

A short while later, an important project that Ima was assigned to lead goes completely sideways. Her manager politely asks for an explanation, but Shyster shrugs and abrogates all responsibility, instead blaming the fiasco on her ‘good-for-nothing team’.  When asked if it’s proper for a leader to pass the buck, Ima just stares, stone-faced, expressionless like a bird. 

Next Ima begins ghosting, showing up late at first and then eventually going AWOL altogether. The manager calls and calls, and when Shyster’s in a mood to pick up, the response is very repentant. You see, her elderly grandmother is ill again and requires constant supervision. But in truth, Ima’s at home playing on Instagram, well aware that elder care is protected by Human Rights as one of sixteen prohibited grounds of discrimination.

Shyster’s manager digs deep to remain calm, cutting Ima plenty of slack and offering the benefit of the doubt. But inwardly, the manager’s frustration level is approaching nuclear. When the malingerer does finally grace the office with her presence, the manager immediately summons Ima for a talk. The time had come to put Shyster on notice, to tell her bluntly that her employment was on thin ice. Ima sits down nonchalantly, oblivious to the tension, as if she hadn’t been incommunicado for weeks. 

The manager begins speaking in firm tones, but is quickly cut off by Shyster, who declares that effective now she’s working full-time from home. The office triggers flashbacks of traumatic childhood experiences, she tells her manager, plus something in the office air gives her hives. And oh by the way, she will require a custom-designed ergonomic office station for her home-based office.  

T-minus 10

The manager does all possible to maintain composure, but it’s of no use, as her top blows in spectacular fashion. Ima sits quietly by, unphased by the spectacle, serene like she’s taking in a Sunday matinee. Ima is then terminated without explanation and told she can expect an ROE within days. She’s subsequently escorted off the premises and informed that her ride is en route.

When the cab arrives, Ima clicks her heels, grinning from ear to ear and dollar signs in her eyes because a) the manager failed to make inquiries into her mental state, b) the company lacks a disability management program and non-discrimination policy, c) the manager rushed to judgement in firing her, and d) the worker sustained harm to her dignity and self-respect. 

The manager regrets ever laying eyes on Ms. Shyster, but thanks heaven for the probation period. A bullet was dodged—she thinks to herself—and she forgets about the incident altogether.  That is, until a letter from Human Rights lands on her desk.  An investigation has been launched, and while Ima was at it, she also filed a lawsuit for damages related to reckless endangerment of her mental health. Ima knows the Human Rights Tribunal is likely to take her side, and when they do, the decision will be used to buttress her civil claim.    

Ima’s gamble pays off handsomely in the end. The Tribunal slaps her former employer with a $10K fine for harm to self-esteem, orders Ima’s immediate reinstatement-–with accommodation for her illness, also ordering the managers to attend special courses relating to unconscious bias against the mentally ill. Adding insult, Ima wins her civil case and the company is forced to fork out $40K for negligent infliction of mental suffering.

Try that again, shall we? 

Instead of letting Shyster win by abruptly firing, the manager would have been wiser to:

  1. Take a long, deep breath
  2. Ask HR to join the meeting to witness the event
  3. After HR arrives, ask Ima if any medical or psychological issues are responsible for her insubordination
  4. Ima’s fully within her rights to refuse disclosure, but inform her that the company still has a duty to inquire
  5. Insist that she sign a document that proves the conversation took place. 
  6. Subsequently, instead of dismissing Shyster, provide her the phone number to your group benefit mental distress service, and then;
  7. Tell her she’s being placed on medical leave immediately 

Ima’s carefully hatched plans would have been laid to waste if the manager had followed these seven steps. Instead of flying off the handle (easier said than done), the latter approach demonstrates due diligence and respect for Shyster’s mental health. And lastly, medical leave buys time to map out next steps.  Make no mistake, Shyster is still a problem for this company, but because the manager maintained presence of mind in scenario two, exposure to liability is drastically reduced. 

Call 1-877-572-1324 to speak with our 541 Eagleson Wynd, Edmonton T6M 0Y4 team for free

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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About Me

Ben Barfett, Principal and Consultant, has spent his life in the construction sector, specifically heavy civil, enviro, commercial, and energy. Having held senior roles in business development, technical advisory, and regional management, he earned his stripes in the field and in head office. Conscious of the interplay between commercial, legal, and execution aspects of construction, his business insights are informed by expertise in WCB policy and enhanced with disability-specific training.

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