For Employers, Sitting on the Throne Can Be Harder than Winning It

Warning: Contains Game of Thrones spoilers. Ye be warned!

April is a big month for Game of Thrones (GoT) fans: GoT’s eighth and final season is set to premiere on April 14. From Entertainment Weekly publishing an all-GoT, 78-page issue to HBO hiding 6 different thrones across the world and challenging fans to go on a Quest for the Throne, the hype about the upcoming season is setting the bar high for the final 6 episodes. In anticipation of the final season, I recently started rewatching season 7. While refreshing my memory on where the series left off in the fight for the throne (or independence from it), I was reminded of a key takeaway for employment law enthusiasts.

Source: New vision / shutterstock

‘Some Old Wounds Never Truly Heal’

Specifically, the first episode of season seven of GoT features a leadership clash between the show’s main characters, Sansa Stark and her half-brother, Jon Snow. As Jon attempts to rally the North’s defenses, he wants to show mercy to two neighboring families who fought against the Stark family in a recent battle. However, Sansa wants to punish them and give their castles to families who demonstrated allegiance to the Starks.

Refusing to adopt Sansa’s position, Jon stands his ground and states, “I will not punish a son for his father’s sins, and I will not take a family home away from a family it’s belonged to for centuries.” In private, Jon scolds Sansa for undermining his tactical decisions, and Sansa admonishes Jon to be wiser than his predecessors when making the tough political decisions that come with ruling the North.

As in the GoT’s make-believe world of Westeros, it isn’t uncommon for leaders in the corporate world to disagree on strategies. When it comes to disciplining, terminating, or taking any action that affects an employee, however, it is critical that leaders be able to articulate the decision-making process. For example, an employer must show it had a “legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason” for the employment action as its defense; plus, numerous state and federal laws exempt employers from paying liquidated damages if they can show they acted in good faith.

‘When You Play the Game of Thrones, You Win or You Die’

All too often, a well-founded employment decision—even one that faces internal disagreement—is complicated by the absence of process or failing to follow an established procedure. Therefore, understanding the decision-making process behind any employment decision is critical. In that regard, key questions employers should be prepared to answer include:

  • Who made the decision?
  • Did anyone else influence or approve the decision?
  • What was the sequence of events leading to the decision? (That is, when was the decision made, on what information was it based, were other details available but not considered, and was the employee’s side of the story considered?)
  • What was the reason for the termination, and was it consistent with other decisions made by the decision-maker? If not, why did the individual deviate from prior decisions?
  • Were alternative actions considered? If so, why was the particular action selected?
  • Is the decision consistent with how the company has handled similar situations and is it consistent with the company’s policies? If not, why did the organization deviate from its earlier decisions and policies?
  • If there is disagreement about the decision, how was the final action decided upon? (That is, did the highest-level leader have final say, was the decision made by the majority, etc.?)
  • Does the documentation regarding the decision-making process support the stated reason for the outcome?

‘Summer Will End Soon Enough and Childhood, as Well’

In GoT, Sansa and Jon belong to House Stark (the lords of the North), whose motto is “Winter Is Coming”—a reminder that no matter how good the summer is, winter and all its consequences will return, so they must be prepared. This can also be applied to the workplace in that preparing your organization to respond to the above questions makes a difference in an employment lawsuit. Therefore, your responses should be thoroughly analyzed to ensure all decisions can be successfully defended if challenged.