How we got the Barney Rule

Flashback a couple decades to the days when PCs are pricey, technology is changing fast, and this young tech hotshot named Barney has some innovative ideas for enterprise IT, says a pilot fish on the scene.

"I tech-interviewed Barney when he was hired, and we had a deep interest in some of the same technologies as well as hobbies," says fish. "But some of his ideas to vastly improve processing and reduce runtimes were not totally appreciated, and by the time his one-year anniversary rolled around, he was ready to leave.

"The company had one benefit in common with some technology companies of the time -- reimbursement for the purchase of a PC, back when they were not in the majority of middle-class homes. Employees became eligible for the reimbursement after one year of service."

And so the day after his anniversary on the job, Barney goes to a computer store and buys a PC that maxes out the company reimbursement. Then he returns to the office, files the paperwork with HR, and gets a stamped copy showing he's due a check.

The next day he drafts a memo outlining his real reasons for leaving and sends it to everyone important in the company except his boss's management chain -- and he's not very complementary of either his boss or her choices to ignore his innovations.

Then he goes to his boss to resign. Resignation is accepted and HR is informed, including the week of vacation that he plans to take during the two-week notice period.

And only then does she hear about Barney's parting-shot email. And by early afternoon she's marching him down to HR, requesting that he be terminated immediately.

HR's response: "OK, we can send him home now. We'll pay him for the two-week notice period, and cash out his unused vacation."

"The manager wasn't happy about that," fish says. "It seems she was trying to make him use his vacation and then lose out on a week's pay. And since his PC purchase reimbursement was approved while he was still an employee, he was still paid that too. He started at his new job a day or two later.

"His now-former employer changed benefit policies to include a payback requirement for the PC reimbursement if an employee left within a certain amount of time. I always referred to that as 'the Barney Rule' to newer employees, and then told them the story."

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