Jack didn’t try to run late, it wasn’t as if he didn’t set his alarm or failed to get up on time. He lived a block and a half from the train station and the commute was only 20 minutes, so there was really no reason for Jack to be late. But every morning he failed to reach the office by 8:30 AM, sometimes only by a few minutes, but over the last few weeks to become late enough that Derek had begun glaring at him as he walked in. Jack had tried to defuse the situation by smiling and waving at Derek every morning, but this only seemed to serve in aggravating the situation.

This morning when Jack had walked in, there had been an email from Derek.

‘It’s time to discuss your promptness Jack. Meeting in the board room at 1:45 PM.’

Jack didn’t try to run late for the meeting, but somehow he managed to return from lunch at 1:52 PM. When he walked into the boardroom he saw that Derek had brought Tracy with him. Tracy, the HR manager, was a stern looking woman with flaming red hair and enough make up to paint a medium-sized dwelling.

“So I guess this doesn’t do much for your perception regarding my promptness?” asked Jack as he took a seat. “But before you say anything, it’s not my fault.”

“Why not?” asked Tracy.

Jack looked thoughtful and rubbed his chin. “It’s a fair question Tracy, and that’s the best thing about an open and honest working environment – you can ask great questions just like that.”

Derek looked bewildered, “Jack, Tracy is here as a witness. Would you like to have a representative of your own?”

“Yes please.”

“I apologise Jack,” said Tracy. “You should have been offered the opportunity to have a representative here prior to the meeting. Who would you like to support you?”

“I’d like Jeremy please.”

Tracy glanced at Derek, “You’d like the CEO?”

Jack leaned back in his chair, “Yes, and frankly I think it’s a masterstroke on my part.”

Tracy and Derek seemed hesitant to say anything, and both looked to the other to take the lead. Finally Derek spoke up. “Jack, you can’t have the CEO of the company as your representative in disciplinary meeting instigated by the company.”

“That’s why it’s so clever on my part,” said Jack. “There’ll never see it coming.”

“Who?”

Jack looked nervously around the room. “Them,” he whispered.

“Them?” asked Tracy, for some reason also looking around the room.

“Well maybe not them,” said Jack. “But, well you know who I mean. Actually they’re probably onto me now, you know how they are. I know, I don’t need a representative, that’ll throw them off the scent. Just tell Jeremy he’s not needed.”

Derek rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Okay Jack, this meeting is to serve as your first verbal warning.”

Jack didn’t say anything, but looked sadly into the distance.

“Jack?” said Tracy. “You okay? Can I get you anything?”

Jack shook his head. “I was just thinking how nice it would be to have Jeremy here.”

Tracy went to say something, but Derek shook his head.

“Anyway,” said Jack perking up. “A verbal warning, that sounds interesting, how does that work?”

“Well Jack,” said Derek. “Firstly, I inform you that it is unacceptable to be continually late for your agreed start time without a reasonable excuse. Should this continue, I will issue you with your first written warning and this will be the beginning of the disciplinary process.”

“So this isn’t the beginning then?”

“This is more like the warning that the process could begin,” said Tracy. “It enables you to rectify your behaviour in line with company policy.”

Jack nodded slowly. “So all I need to do is be on time from now on.”

Tracy and Derek nodded.

“And nothing else will happen?”

More nodding.

Now it was Jack’s turn to look confused and he stood up and backed towards the door. “Okay then, thanks for the meeting I guess, even though it never really happened.”

“Just fix your attitude and be on time for work,” said Derek. “Tracy will email you a summary of this meeting to ensure we’re on the same page.”

Derek shook his head. “I don’t think so Derek, it would defeat the purpose of a verbal warning if you were to write it down. That would make it a written verbal warning, or a verbal warning in writing, or written verbal words. None of those things make sense Derek, you can’t mess with the laws of nature.” Jack reached the door, backed out and closed it gently behind him.