What This Year’s Miss Universe Pageant Teaches Us About Business

December 22, 2015

By now, there is a pretty good chance you’ve heard about that super big mix up at the Miss Universe Pageant on Sunday night.

[youtube]www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmqAjr0xs04[/youtube]

For those who missed it, though, here is a recap:

Host Steve Harvey, of among many other accolades Family Feud fame, announced to the crowd this year’s winner: Miss Colombia. The new queen was crowned and joyfully marched around the stage to the thrill and applause of the audience. That is, until Mr. Harvey was forced to come back and announce that there had been a mix up. It turns out, he had read his card wrong. Miss Columbia was first runner up. The real winner was Miss Philippines.

Talk about embarrassing for everyone. However, that wasn’t even all. After the awkward moment on stage, Harvey followed up his gaffe with another error: he took to Twitter to apologize for his mistake. Only, instead of apologizing to Miss Colombia and Miss Philippines, he said he was sorry to Miss Columbia and Miss Philippians.

As you can imagine, jokes were made, people were offended, and a lot of hurt and confusion happened from this whole situation.

As is the case for a lot of life, this situation gives us a lot of valuable insight into the business world. From rescinding job offers to fixing our mistakes to how we handle social media, business professionals can learn a lot from this year’s Miss Universe Pageant.

Mistaken Hires

For all intents and purposes, Miss Universe is a job. It may be a job with a clear timeline, but it is a year-long commitment with a salary and place of residence included. So when the wrong person was crowned, it was kind of like giving someone a job and then immediately taking it back.

In Harvey’s situation, this un-hiring was the result of a misread. In the corporate world, there are lots of reasons someone might be given a job only to have that offer rescinded shortly after.

  • A problem came back with the background check.
  • The money for the salary does not come through.
  • The need for the position was eliminated.

When the wrong Miss Universe was crowned, the horror of the situation was pretty obvious. Watching her looks of confusion – in fact, watching everyone’s looks of confusion and embarrassment, was bad for everyone. Now, while if you have to rescind a job offer, the humiliation will likely not be quite so public, try to keep Miss Colombia’s face in mind: you are putting the person whose job you are eliminating in a precarious position.

Think about just some of the problems having a job offer taken away could cause.

  • You already quit your old job in anticipation of starting a new one. This means that you either have to ask for it back, which could be embarrassing, or you could end up jobless, at least temporarily.
  • You paid money to relocate.
  • You turned down other job offers.
  • If you did have to relocate for the position, your spouse may have already quit their current job.

Despite the problems it can cause, though, legally speaking, it is fine to do this in most situations (the next section talks about exceptions to this statement, though). Absent a contract stating something else, most employment is at-will meaning that you can end that relationship whenever you want for any reason (with the obvious exceptions of illegal reasons such as discrimination) and that includes before the individual starts work. Still, if you do find yourself in a situation like this, it is best to handle it correctly.

Legal Repercussions to Avoid

It is important to do your best to avoid problems if you do have to rescind an offer (and to just try to avoid being in situations like this in general) because while it is legal, it can be risky. There are several methods a spurned potential employee can try to find legal recourse if an offer is taken away.

Promissory Estoppel

 

If an employee is going to have a good case against you after you rescind an offer, there is a decent chance it is going to be through promissory estoppel. Basically, this doctrine is used in contract law to say that, even if there was no contract made, a promise was made, and by reasonably relying on that promise, the individual was economically harmed by that reliance.

In other words, if an individual is told they have a job waiting for them at your office, so they quit their current job, sell their house, and move across the country to take it only to have you tell them, “Sorry. We changed our minds,” they are pretty obviously economically harmed, and they could have a case.

Prior Knowledge

A former potential employee might also have a case if they can show you knew of the circumstances that eventually led to the offer being rescinded, but you offered the job anyway. In other words, let’s say that you knew there was a good chance the money for the salary wouldn’t come through, but you were generally hoping it would. You wanted to be able to hire the candidate, so you offered them the job, negotiated the salary, and were happy when they accepted. Then, you sat back and crossed your fingers and hoped someone found the money in the budget to pay the new hire. Nobody did. You had to take away the offer. That might not be good for you.

Illegal Reasoning

As I kind of already pointed out, employment at will is not unlimited. You still can’t fire someone (or not make an offer or rescind an offer) for an illegal reason. If a job offer is rescinded and the individual can prove that it was because you found out they were older than you thought or a different gender than you realized or another race than you had imagined – or any other illegal reason – then you might find yourself in some hot water.

Rescinding a Job Offer

Now, before you rescind the offer, remember that you could be putting this poor person in all of the positions listed above, plus any more that I didn’t even list. Plus, you could be putting yourself at risk for any of the above legal repercussions, which wouldn’t be good. So, if you have to do it, do it correctly.

Here are some tips:

  • Don’t make a job offer unless you are reasonably certain that the job will be available. Sometimes things outside of your control happen, but try to make sure they are few and far between. Don’t rescind an offer unless you have to, and don’t have to very often.
  • Make sure you make no promises when you are creating an offer. Even innocent-seeming statements such as “Welcome to a long and fruitful relationship” can be used to try to overturn an employment-at-will relationship.
  • Follow the golden rule and treat people how you would want to be treated. If you have to give them the bad news that the job they were going to take is no longer available, do it in as nice a manner as possible. The better you treat someone in an unpleasant situation such as this, the better they will take it and the less likely they are to want revenge.

Cleaning Up After Your Mistakes

 

While everyone may not immediately see the connection between Steve Harvey’s epic fail and rescinded job offers as a whole, we can all probably agree that this whole situation shows us an obvious truth: sometimes mistakes happen even in professional situations. How we handle those mistakes, however, is the real test.

In the Miss Universe example, Steve Harvey did quite a few things right after he did that one giant thing wrong.

  • He came back on and announced his mistake as soon as he realized it.
  • He apologized for what he had done.
  • Not only did he not try to place the blame on others, but he actively worked hard to absolve anyone else of guilt by showing that the card said the right thing, and he had just read it wrong.
  • He seemed sincere in his embarrassment and his apology.
  • After he had admitted his mistake and fixed the situation to the best of his ability, he got off the stage.

Companies make mistakes a lot – they are, after all, run by humans. However, it is easy to make things worse when these situation pop up by not doing what Harvey did.

If you realize that you have made a mistake, whether it is with an employee, a customer, or anyone else, admit it, take the blame, apologize, seem like you mean it, do what you need to in order to correct it, and then stop dwelling on it except as needed to make sure it never happens again.

Be Careful on Social Media

The last lesson we are going to go over today is about social media. If you use social media as part of your business and you have to make an apology to the public, then there is a good chance you will use your handles on these platforms to do so. That is a great idea. However, in this area, don’t follow Harvey’s example.

If you have placed yourself in an embarrassing situation already, don’t make it worse by making another mistake on the Internet – where it will never go away even if you delete it. Make sure there are no unintended meanings behind what you write. Ensure the apology is sincere and succinct. And here is a tip that Mr. Harvey should have heeded: if you are apologizing to a person, make sure you spell their name(s) correctly. (That last sentence is super important if you don’t want to further make yourself into a joke.)  

The Takeaway

I don’t know about you, but I feel bad for everyone involved in the Miss Universe snafu. However, mistakes are a part of life. Sometimes unpleasant events pop up that make us have to take back our job offer tiaras, whether that is to give that tiara to someone else or just to get rid of the position belonging to the person who would wear that tiara. Sometimes we just make mistakes. However, when it comes to business, making these mistakes can be costly. That is why it is so important to handle them correctly.

 

Ashley Shaw

By

Ashley Shaw is an experienced Legal Writer with years of experience. After receiving her JD, she worked for years in a corporate environment writing on business and employment law topics

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