Monday, July 2, 2007
Help Me Howard: Dinghy
Any worker who's ever heard those dreaded words, "you're fired," certainly knows how it feels. But one South Florida man says he was fired not for how he worked but how he got to work. So he put Help me Howard with Patrick Fraser to work for him.
WSVN -- Gustavo Schmidt: "Everybody loves the water. I guess we just have to be on top of it."
A floating home has its advantages: no landlord, no condo board, no property taxes.
Patricia Schmidt: "They have too many bills out there on land."
Gustavo and his mother Patricia don't have landlocked headaches, they live on a 60-foot boat they anchor in Biscayne Bay.
Gustavo Schmidt: "This is the back bedroom of the boat."
Eventually, they want to turn this into a charter boat, but it needs a few repairs, so Gustavo had to get a job to raise the money.
Gustavo Schmidt: "You get a good workout."
And Gustavo was getting a great workout every day, paddling his small dinghy to work 20 minutes each way to a marina where he washed boats and took customers out on excursions.
Gustavo Schmidt: "We have a good time, you know. It was a fun job. I enjoyed it a lot."
He enjoyed it, in the past tense, because Gustavo no longer works at the marina.
Gustavo Schmidt: "My boss tells me to give him the keys back, and that I no longer have the job."
Gustavo was stunned, after all, his supervisor told him he was doing a great job.
Gustavo Schmidt: "Come to work every day, even stay at work late to get everything locked up and secured."
When Gustavo asked why he had been let go, his manager claimed it wasn't his decision. It came from the marina boss, who didn't like the way Gustavo got to work and where he lived.
Gustavo Schmidt: "'He had to let you go because everybody that lives in water are low lives, thieves and scrums.'"
Gustavo was stunned that someone would assume he was a low life because he lives on a boat and paddles to work. Patricia says it's simply insulting.
Patricia Schmidt: "I wish you would come here and see what kind of person I am, what kind of a person my son is."
The boss didn't want to do that, but Gustavo is convinced that his firing is illegal. So he asked Howard to wade in.
Howard Finkelstein: "Unfortunately for Gustavo, a boss can fire you for any reason they want or no reason at all. The only prohibition: you cannot fire an employee for a discriminatory reason such as their race, religion, gender or ethnicity. Living on a boat or paddling to work doesn't qualify for protection."
When we spoke to Gustavo's manager, he told us he had no comment. Then we contacted the marina boss. When we asked if Gustavo was fired because he lived on a boat he said, "I don't care where he lived," that he was a recent hire, was on probation and didn't measure up, and he then hung up.
Howard says Florida is a right-to-work state, but it does not mean you actually have the right to work.
Howard Finkelstein: "Unfortunately, you really are at the mercy of your employer. Absent an employment contract that gives you protections, there is nothing you can do other than seek different employment. Basically, if you don't like your boss or your job, find a new one."
For now, Gustavo is left looking for a new place to paddle to work.
Gustavo Schmidt: "I've been looking around for other jobs and stuff. It's just not the same kind of job that I had before. I loved it."
Patrick Fraser: "Now if you feel like your boss is mistreating you and it's not based on race, creed or color, like Howard says, your only solution is to quit. And if you are convinced it is discrimination, file a complaint with the federal government at eeoc.gov."
Feel like you are up a creek without a paddle? Want to work on a solution? Row over to us. We don't always have our oars in the water, but we'll keep you from sinking.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: