With Christmas less than two weeks away, my 6-year old son is quite fixated on Santa’s naughty and nice lists, and on the question of whose names might appear on each side of the ledger. His enthusiasm has given me pause to take stock of the “naughty” and “nice” that I’ve observed over the past year as an employment lawyer.

Because conflict and dispute is often at the heart of what lawyers do, it might be assumed that it’s a business in which the naughty trumps the nice; however, that’s not necessarily true.

If we place those terms in the context of legal conflict, “nice” could be taken to mean fair, reasonable, respectful and ethical; and “naughty” could be taken to mean intransigent, stubborn, greedy and vindictive.

Reasonable employers and employees can vigorously disagree, and yet still come to a reasonable result which would keep everyone involved on Santa’s “nice” list.  But when the “naughty” comes out on one or both sides of a dispute, the result is usually counter-productive for everyone.

It may seem antithetical – and even corny – for a lawyer to wish for “peace on earth and goodwill towards (wo)men” for the holidays; but the fact is that avoiding Santa’s naughty list just makes good business sense.

Looking back over the year that’s now nearly over, I’ve been blessed to work with a great many reasonable and truly decent clients.  And my experiences with them show me abundant evidence that being reasonable (which emphatically is not to say faint-hearted or weak-willed) pays dividends.  What makes sense in the business world also makes sense in the world of employment law; and, in that regard, the equation is simple:

  • Being reasonable discourages needless conflict.
  • Needless conflict is inherently wasteful of time, money and resources; and it creates the counter-productive by-products of stress, aggravation and distraction.
  • Needless conflict is therefore fundamentally at odds with prosperity.
  • Discouraging needless conflict is therefore fundamentally aligned with prosperity.
  • Being reasonable is therefore fundamentally aligned with prosperity.

All of that said, there are of course exceptions to every rule.  There are circumstances in which trying to be reasonable won’t do any good – particularly when the opposite party has signalled that they have no interest in being anything but stubborn.  And so there are times to bare fangs and claws, whether Santa is watching or not.

On balance, however – for employers, for employees and for all of their lawyers – Santa’s “nice list” is the better place to be.  After all, no one wants a lump of coal for Christmas.