PORTLAND, Ore. — Human resources is not always a hot topic but U.S. Bank, which is based here in Minneapolis is getting some national attention because the bank fired someone.
That employee based in Portland, Oregon broke "policy" to show compassion to a customer in need.
20 dollars was all the money that changed hands.
"I go out there, give him 20 dollars, I said 'Merry Christmas' and I went right back to work," Emily James said. James was a senior call officer at a U.S. Bank branch in Portland, Oregon. That's until she got fired for doing what she just described.
She said she had been trying to help this one customer who had a hold on his paycheck for several days.
"He told me he had been into the branch, verified funds, verified his employment but they're not removing the hold," she explained. "They're saying that they don't have the authorization to do so."
It was a complicated situation that happened at a complicated time. It happened near Christmas--just a few months ago--meaning business was slowing down for the Holidays.
On Christmas Eve, when the customer called from a gas station regarding the hold on his check once again, James said the answer was clear on how she could help.
She thought offering him 20 dollars of her own cash could be a bandaid.
"It was the right thing to do," she said over video chat when we connected on Tuesday. "I really think I would like to help you in this little gesture. I know it's not going to solve everything but I can at least get you home."
She said she tried talking to multiple supervisors before she was able to find one who gave her permission to execute her plan. She said the female manager let her go. So she did, drive 20 or so minutes to the gas station where the customer was at and passed her cash. She said the interaction was maybe less than two or three minutes. She said she came back to work right away.
James explained that a few days went by at work after Christmas until she walked in to be greeted by another supervisor who met her in the lobby area of her work to fire her.
"She walked me through the turnstiles where security is and I gave her my badge and I left," James said.
When Dr. Mia Mulrennan heard about this, she said she felt disappointed. Mulrennan is the CEO of Rave-Worthy, a company that offers customer service strategies, talent management and leadership development. Mulrennan was also a Chief Human Resources Officer for several years prior and is a hospitality psychologist.
She explained that owing to her research, she knew that employees like James are hard to come by.
"My research said if you take 100 people, out of that group of 100, only six or eight of them would truly be customer-centric," Mulrennan explained.
She said the biggest mistake U.S. Bank made was not only firing James but firing her as quickly as they did.
"The worst part of this situation was a knee-jerk response quite frankly," she said. "If they had taken more time to actually investigate all the components and pieces and realistically see what was the intent of the employee and what was the outcome...versus just firing."
U.S. Bank CEO Andy Cecere was quick to offer up an apology in statement form once news reached him. This is what he wrote:
“Our recent employment decision in Oregon does not reflect who we are as a company. It is important to acknowledge our mistakes and when we fall short of our own high expectations. I take full responsibility. This weekend, after personally speaking with the employees involved I have a better understanding of their motivations and don’t think we got this one quite right. I am committed to working with these employees and others on the team to understand how we can do better. We will also conduct an immediate review of our policies and make appropriate changes to them that align with our values and our commitment to both customers and employees.”
According to Dr. Mulrennan and many others who have expressed their thoughts on social media, what's "right" was what James did.
"Whether or not they have what I call the hospitality gene, whether or not they have it naturally is really a gem of an employee," Mulrennan said. "A gem of a team member. I think Emily demonstrated that."
As for those asking why James did what she did, why she even bothered, she said they're asking the wrong question.
"The world is tough as it is, people can be mean and cruel," James said. "If I can take 20 minutes out of my day, an hour out of my day just to make someone's life better, why not?"
The Oregonian originally wrote about Emily James' story and the New York Times wrote about her too. Since then, James said she had many contacts with people who are interested in hiring her, but doesn't have a solid offer yet.
She said she gets through the days by donating plasma and by relying on the kindness of others. She asked us to share two charities you can donate to, if you feel motivated to spread kindness after reading her story.
She also added that she is currently in talks with U.S. Bank about this but she couldn't share any details of that conversation yet.