Mr. ZZ was working in a travel insurance company named “Europea de Seguros” for exactly five years, ending his stay in it by January 2011. This company happens to be one of the leading companies in its sector in Spain and also provides, to a lesser extent, some other insurance services related to healthcare, vehicles and homes.
The five years Mr. ZZ spent there do not however figure among the most enriching experiences of his life. We could argue whether Mr. ZZ had the correct profile for the company or not, but that would be of no use in this case. Most often, what really matters is not the employee’s profile but rather the company’s. And that is something carefully ignored by any brainy and successful Human Resources treatise.
Mr. ZZ never meant to be considered the most reliable and hardworking person in the world during his stay in that company. But for one simple reason: people shouldn’t give back what they are refused. He knew from the very beginning that he was working in a company that stank, but at that stage he couldn’t imagine that the company actually stank much more than it initially seemed and for many more reasons than were originally presumable.
Many of the inglorious features of the enterprise were therefore notorious from the start, especially in the departments that required larger workforce: low salaries among most of the staff, labour exploitation, key employees infiltrated by the management, abnormally high staff turnover, organizational chaos, extremely low qualification level… All this was simply just the first impression, but contributed to provide an idea of what could be expected. Nevertheless, a still naive Mr. ZZ couldn’t help but wonder why the company maintained those presumably self-destructive cornerstones for its profitability.
So, despite his naivety, a bewildered Mr. ZZ decided to turn to an utterly infallible statement in life that could procure him a clue to what was really going on. The statement is simple: “Everything, absolutely everything, has an explanation, whether it is obvious or not”. And the correct application of that statement leads to a first step, which consists in carefully analysing the facts, in order to subsequently obtain the correct explanation for them.
But the correct analysis of the facts was not something that could be performed in just a few months. The complexity of those facts was such that Mr. ZZ perfectly understood that this first chapter had to remain permanently open for further accuracy of the drawn conclusions. And so, with the passing of time, he managed to gather a relevant number of varied facts which, under careful examination, seemed to be interconnected.
Let’s expose them: Firstly, the qualification of a significant part of the employees of certain departments was remarkably low, fact which meant not just a misuse of resources and bad customer service, but also a huge danger in that customer service, as this company had to provide medical assistance and rescue services often in dramatic circumstances, as is the case with any travel insurance company. Likewise, the performance evaluation applied to that broad spectre of employees had little to do with their real capacities, service quality and diligence. What really seemed to matter was their good understanding with the managers in terms of promoting and applying the company’s policies whatever they were.
Under such a sectarian approach, another outstanding feature was the obnoxiously scandalous preferential treatment received by a few Jehovah’s Witnesses who had been discreetly brought in by some manager member of this sect. These persons required no kind of capacity or qualification to be there taking up a sit, and their mere membership of the sect secretly justified wonderful salaries and work conditions for them.
All this peculiar breeding ground in terms of Human Resources policy was conveniently seasoned with an indescribable chaos under which the regular activities of these involved departments were carried out. Another peculiarity regarding workforce management was to frequently resort to carefully planned work harassment campaigns against certain employees. This even included brutal physical aggressions performed by relatives of other employees well-connected with the management, against “disturbing” employees in the proximities of the office. In this context, Mr ZZ could likewise ascertain that several highly-valued employees showed obvious pathologic features, even existing in some cases internal psychological reports confirming this. That is maybe one of the reasons why certain employees were allowed to smoke joints and resort to other hallucinogenic substances inside the company’s facilities.
Another remarkable fact was the huge staff turnover, especially in the time prior to the economic collapse. Mr. ZZ could certify how a large number of new employees, usually the most valuable ones, rapidly decided to quit the company scared by the lousy conditions and atmosphere. However, Mr. ZZ never detected the application of any type of special policy to counteract this apparent waste of training time and resources.
It is also important to note that a successful implementation of all these glorious policies required the existence of a well-disposed works council, for which “Europea de Seguros” applied the dirtiest imaginable practices in order to guarantee, not always with success, the presence in it of as many arse-lickers as possible.
Another much more earthy feature observed in the company, at a different level, was the tenacious contribution of different male members of the management to the development of the high-class prostitution sector. The rumours in this regard were countless, including the presumable existence of a fully-equipped fun-room in the headquarters’ attic, aimed at providing a well-deserved relax to the general manager out of office hours. It is fair though to admit that this general trend perfectly fitted with the corporate identity of at least one of the international groups the company was incorporated in: Ergo, corporation reputed worldwide for its colossal managerial orgies. In like manner, many of the male “Europea de Seguros” managers did not limit their thirst for bonus-sex to high-class professionals. Some of the female employees of the corporation were also included in their “potentially fuckable chicks” shortlist. The international meetings of the corporation staff, which usually took place annually in different European locations, happened to be an accurate setting for a hunt that often reached or surpassed the level of sexual harassment.
This is a summary of the facts as far as Human Resources and corporate incentives are concerned. But Mr. ZZ clearly determined a second group of extremely embarrassing facts. This second group was related to the business activities of the company.
Let’s then have a look at that too: It is convenient, in this regard, to start outlining the different business areas of the company and their basics. As we have already explained, “Europea de Seguros” is basically one of the leading travel insurance companies in the Spanish market. It is part of two international insurance groups: IAG (International Assistance Group) and Ergo. Traditionally, Europea’s biggest confessable sources of income have derived from its role as travel policy provider for some of Spain’s largest tour-operators, such as Viajes El Corte Ingles or Travelplan; and also its role as reinsurance company for medical assistance out of Spain for the customers of Adeslas and DKV (two of the main healthcare insurances in the Spanish market). Europea also provides different healthcare policies of its own, especially for medical assistance abroad. So far so good. The interesting part comes when Mr. ZZ started to ascertain that the sources of income where really not limited to such conventional businesses.
As a member of IAG and Ergo, “Europea de Seguros” also operates as the Spanish correspondent of the different foreign companies member of those groups. This implies that they organize medical assistance and cover the related expenses of the customers of those companies staying in Spain. However, this is just the theory. The practice rather consists in directing the customers to public healthcare facilities, especially when the medical expenses are expected to be extremely high. Once the customer is already at the medical centre, an Europea employee contacts the facility presenting himself as the Spanish correspondent of the patient’s foreign insurance. The subsequent speech basically states that the foreign insurance needs to regularly receive medical information in order to determine whether they cover the expenses or not. Europea keeps contact with the medical centre for days, creating the necessary degree of misunderstanding in order to guarantee that the patient quits the facility without the insurance having sent any reliable payment guarantee. It is important to note that very often the customers leave the facility assuming that their insurance company will pay for the expenses, as that is what they are usually told by the company. Nevertheless, that never happens. The next chapter of the story comes when the administrations of the hospitals call Europea on different occasions asking for a payment guarantee. The only answer from Europea at that stage is that the foreign insurance company of the customers is not sending any kind of confirmation about the coverage. Result: These companies involved obtain huge savings by defrauding the Spanish Social Security, an institution to which all the Spanish workforce contributes with part of its salary in order to guarantee the best possible public healthcare for the country, which is a basic right of the citizenship. Some of the most active foreign companies in this kind of fraud are Customer Care (Australia), Oncall (USA), several Russian companies (like Ingosstrakh and Global Voyager Assistance), Paramount Healthcare (India)… One fundamental point is that some of these companies regularly change the name they operate with in certain countries, so as to leave the faintest possible track of their misdeeds.
But this original cost-saving policy was applicable to several other major activities in “Europea de Seguros”. In accordance with the Spanish Insurance Contract Law (“Ley del Contrato de Seguro”), when a Spanish customer is a holder of a travel insurance policy for the Spanish territory, the insurance company has to cover the cost of the medical assistance required by the customer, whether it is in a public or a private facility. Likewise, if a Spanish customer is a holder of a medical insurance or reinsurance policy for medical assistance in a European country, the medical costs always have to be covered by the insurance company, no matter if the medical assistance takes place in a public or private facility.
Nevertheless, “Europea de Seguros” also had a solution for this: So very often, when customers required medical assistance in the European Union, there were several available techniques in order to try to persuade them that the best option was to attend a public hospital making use of their European Health Card, so that the medical expenses would ultimately be charged to the Spanish Social Security. Likewise, the solution for the Spanish insured travellers moving within the national territory was pretty much the same: try by all means to make the Social Security cover the costs that were attributable to the insurance.
And we thus get to the point when Mr. ZZ believed to have sufficient evidence to consider that these two relevant groups of facts (staff policy facts and business activity facts) actually merged into one single strategy: to base the profitability of the company on illegal activities, leaving the faintest possible trace. It was obvious that “Europea de Seguros” had long ago corroborated that fraud provided the quickest and broadest way to guarantee huge incomes to its officials and top shareholders, not even taking into consideration the social abuse they incurred in. And this corporate vision called for a complementary staff policy, according to which a large number of employees should not know what they were doing or why, and if they did they should never dare to harm the company.
Mr. ZZ had been a public enemy for a very long time without making any special effort. His only merit was not to be exaggeratedly stupid and to move around within a basic ethic code. This merit was however enough for him to be awarded with several harassment campaigns, more or less steadily kept, aimed at getting him voluntarily out of the company. But although Mr. ZZ had no interest in keeping on in such company, he was determined not to resort to a voluntary quit. The scenario then became patent: an unequal competition to see if ZZ’s departure was voluntary or under dismissal.
The moment then came when Mr. ZZ’s exit became an absolute priority: The elections to the works council were just round the corner and the prospect of his running in them was too obvious a danger. Some of the managers eagerly proposed to perform an unprecedented harassment campaign against him, and the proposal received an enthusiastic support from some few faithful employees who were discreetly consulted about the matter. Mr. ZZ had also put in serious peril a substantial part of the company’s business by directly contacting some of the foreign scammy partners of “Europea de Seguros” to warn them of the consequences of their acts, by internally threatening Europea’s managers with denouncing the company’s activities to the Social Security, by informing the billing departments of several public hospitals about the procedures applied by the whole international corporation, and by internally denouncing the disgraceful staff practices and work harassment campaigns.
The battlefield was consequently set and the result of the fight confirmed that wickedness and incompetence often travel together. Mr. ZZ basically limited himself to try to keep calm and not to notoriously respond to the gross harassment he was subjected to. He knew exactly when and how to strike back, and he was conscious that finesse and talent were on his side. The series of internal e-mails he carefully sent at the right time, with the accurate content and addressed to the right people, were too heavy a burden for the management of “Europea de Seguros”. Therefore, after obtaining the authorization of the General Manager, the Human Resources manager of “Europea de Seguros” proposed Mr. ZZ a significant indemnification pay for him to quit the company, which he accepted.
Mr. ZZ had at least managed to leave the company in the best possible conditions. Nonetheless, there was something in this whole story he was specially distressed about, something external to “Europea de Seguros”. Mr. ZZ couldn’t understand how an institution like the Spanish Social Security offered such a worrisome display of incompetence, negligence and irresponsibility so as to overlook the obscenest imaginable scams, performed by two large international corporations with a varied representation of countries. And what is even more dramatic, among those countries there were some few, like the United States, where a Spanish patient would be left abandoned dying by the main gate of a hospital if he couldn’t prove to be a holder of a medical insurance with an astronomical coverage.
In like manner, the few competent and responsible billing department employees from Spanish public hospitals he had been in contact with, seemed to proceed diligently upon their own conviction and never upon a serious plan of payment follow-up and fraud prevention. The result was devastating: only the frauds performed by a medium-size company like “Europea de Seguros”, in conjunction with the international groups it belonged to, were worth hundreds of thousands of Euros per year. Undoubtedly enough to sponsor the endless coffee-break some of the officials of the Social Security seem to be permanently living in, instead of taking extreme care of the use given to public funds intended to guarantee some of the citizenship’s basic rights. Furthermore, Mr. ZZ couldn´t help wondering to what extent certain public high-ranking officials could be implicated in this extremely productive proceedings. Nor could he help infuriating at thinking how a company like Europea, reputed for offering miserable salaries and work conditions for a large part of its staff, obtained huge dirty incomes allocated to such venerable initiatives as the renowned Ergo orgies.
So once out of this dreadful enterprise, and with much more available time at his disposal, he decided to send in a formal written complaint to the Social Security (more specifically, to the Work Inspection department), filling in the required form and providing detailed information on the afore-mentioned matters. The response he got one month later, via registered post, didn´t disappoint him at all. The standard letter was signed by a high-level official of the Social Security Work Inspection department. It said something like: “We acknowledge receipt of your mailing. However, the reported facts do not correspond to this department’s jurisdiction. We consequently suggest you to forward your complaint to the General Treasury of the Social Security, or else to bring the corresponding lawsuit in court”.
At this point in time, Mr. ZZ decided to just give it another simple try and sent a very respectful e-mail to the address that appeared on the letter, saying something like: “Dear Sirs, given that you currently possess all the material related to my complaint, would you be so kind as to resend it yourselves to what is supposed to be, according to your own explanation, the right department inside your own institution?”. Time went by and there were no news. His e-mail had obviously been carefully erased by a diligent officer unwilling to use his brains more than necessary for the same price. But Mr. ZZ was satisfied with himself: he had done what he had to. And he also knew that a good story can never be considered concluded…
(to be continued…)