I am afraid that I am in a bad situation and I have to get your advice ASAP. I was just terminated from my job because of the so called ‘reorganization’. However, I knew the real reason was that I complained about the unfair, bad and abusive behavior of my supervisor to my boss (who is the anti-harassment adviser) just the day before I was fired. I also mentioned this a couple of months ago. He never gave me advice on how to solve it.
Before leaving, he asked me to sign an agreement so I can get an extra month pay. The terms in it are “I agree not to make a claim or sue anybody in the company”, “I agree not to make negative comments to any employee”, “Do not disclose anything about this settlement.”
I only got two weeks pay without proper notice after 3 years in a senior position in this company. Plus one month pay conditional with the “agreement”. Something is wrong here!! My 5 months pay is more than $40,000. The maximum claim in small claims court in my state is very low and won’t come near to that amount. They fired me promptly because they wanted to escape paying my bonus.
With your experience, roughly how much would it cost for this claim? I don’t mind if it is more than my 5 months pay. Even if I finally use all of the money for my dignity I would like to do it!! Just wondering how much difference it will be? If they agree to give me 4 months pay after my “Go to court if you don’t pay me”, should I still need to sign that agreement? I still feel it is cheap because that money should be without any conditions.
My question is if it is a wrongful dismissal what I can do? Sure my supervisor has all the power to shut everyone up… Will everyone shut up for the settlement? Should I sign it? It said it is optional. The difference looks to be just the one month’s pay. I don’t want to sign this as the termination has ruined my reputation in the industry and the reason I complained was for the good of the company.
Looking forward for your advice. I found this website to be very useful and practical.
(The letter above is a combination of three emails with the most important details left in.)
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY FRANKE JAMES
Dear Seeking Opportunity,
You’re thinking the right way. I would be extremely cautious about signing — it sounds suspicious. However, at Office-Politics.com we can’t offer legal advice. We’re just here to prompt your thinking. You’ll have to consult a lawyer about the specifics of your situation. But, I can offer you these ten non-legal suggestions which may be helpful:
1. Get legal advice on your case from a lawyer.
If you do call a lawyer in your area, do not be shy about asking how much it will cost for a first meeting. You wouldn’t walk into a clothing store and buy something without looking at the price tag would you? Same thing with legal services. Most will tell you right up front. Write down the figure they quote you, and bring it with you. Lawyers charge by the minute and legal fees rise rapidly. Keep asking every time you call how much it’s going to cost. Legal fees can spiral out of control rapidly — and many lawyers are so easy to talk to that you won’t mind chatting — until you get walloped with a big bill.
2. Call up the Department of Labor and take notes
Immediately call up the Department or Ministry of Labor in your state or province. They should be able to tell you what your rights are under your area’s law. Ask for their advice — it won’t cost you anything.
Write down their advice in point form. Sometimes when people give advice we only hear what we’re ready to hear and the other tips they tell us get ignored. So write down every point they tell you.
And then summarize their advice to you at the end of the phone call like this, “So, you’re advice to me is to do x, y and z. And if that doesn’t work to file a complaint with “b”. Is that correct?” If you don’t get a good response from the government worker, call back and try to speak to someone else. Some government workers are more helpful than others.
Follow their advice.
3. Shine a spotlight on your company
Try to come up with other ways to put the company under the spotlight for their unfair dismissal. Think of this like a chess game. Who is your Bishop? Your Knight? Your Queen? What counter moves will your company make? You need to line up people who will help you. That could mean writing to the media OR an industry body OR a politician. (Or maybe all three.) Is there an association that is connected with your company and your line of work? If so write to them (but don’t send off any letters without consulting a lawyer!). Companies hate bad publicity. You want to get as many objective eyes looking at your case as possible and saying “Oh this isn’t right. This is terrible. We need to stamp out this kind of injustice and abuse.” But you have to be very careful, because if you’re found to have made false claims (or don’t have documentation to prove your claims) you could get hit with a defamation or slander lawsuit or worse!
4. Going to court or mediation
Pursuing your case in court is going to be extremely expensive, justice is not guaranteed, and you may not get any money from it. You may in fact lose substantial amounts of money in legal costs. It will also chew up a lot of your time and cause you a lot of stress. Don’t be under any illusions if you do decide to go to court.
Because of the high costs of litigation, many cases are settled nowadays by mediation (which is usually much less expensive). However, your legal costs might not be covered. So you might reach agreement via mediation, win a nice amount but then still be stuck with your legal fees.
5. Read about others who were fired
There is a terrific book called Pink Slip Chronicles by Canadian lawyer Brian Grosman, Q.C. It has some hair raising stories in it. Like the one about the senior executive who was terminated two days before his $500,000 stock options were to vest. He sued the company for wrongful dismissal, lost the case — and then got stuck paying $250,000 in his ex-company’s legal fees. But the real kicker is that the new CEO he complained about was subsequently dumped, amidst allegations of sexual harassment and fraud. If you have a sense of fairness and justice these stories will make your blood boil (but you’ll learn a lot.) Look for it online and if you can afford it, buy it and READ it. It has lots more stories about employees who got fired and how they were helped (or not!). Reading it will help you keep in perspective what has happened to you. It could be worse right? At least you don’t have $250,000 in legal fees (yet).
6. Landing your next job
In terms of your next job and interviews with HR — be honest, talk about the reorganization, but don’t give more detail than needed. Do not speak badly about your old company. That may be very hard but the prospective employer could just think, “He’s speaking badly about his old company. He’ll speak badly about ours.”
7. Feature your ‘best quotes’ in your resume
Get letters of recommendation from as many people as possible. (Not family.) Coworkers, old employers and friends would be good. Use a classic advertising trick and feature their best quotes in your resume. Think of movie reviews when they say, “Brilliant! Don’t miss this classic! Best film of the year!” What great headline quote can you get?
Get professional help writing your resume if you can afford it. Pros know what companies are looking for. For example the importance of key words. Make sure your resume has got the hot button key words that will get you noticed. Once your resume is all polished up send it out and post it on job sites.
8. Lots of people lose their jobs. It’s not the bad mark it used to be
Lots of people lose their jobs — and many more will if a recession hits as some are predicting. Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. issued these stats in a press release two days ago. No surprise that the hardest hit is the financial sector still reeling from the subprime mortgage scandal.
“Planned workforce reductions announced by United States employers surged 69 percent in January to 74,986, up from 44,416 in December. It was the highest monthly total since last August, when employers announced 79,459 job cuts. The monthly report on job cuts released Monday by global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. also showed that job cuts last month were 19 percent higher than the 62,975 cuts announced in January 2007. Employees in the financial sector received the brunt of the bad news again in January, as job cuts in the troubled industry jumped 177 percent from 5,710 in December to 15,789 or more than one-fifth (21 percent) of all January cuts.”
9. Use your network to help you
Use your friends, network and career sites to help you find a new job. Remember that many jobs are not advertised so that cappuccino with your old school chum might just get land you your next job. Consider moving to where the jobs are. Some areas are hungry for workers (like Alberta if you’re here in Canada).
10. The last word from lawyer and OP adviser, John Burton
John Burton LL.B. M.B.A. M.Div. Ph.D. is an ethicist, mediator, lawyer and theologian. He teaches Personal and Corporate Social Responsibility in the Faculty of Management at the University of British Columbia in the Okanagan. John has also taught alternative dispute resolution at Queen’s Law School and Ethics at the Schulich School of Business.
Dr. John commented, “If the writer chooses to go to Small Claims Court he can do so, but any claim he may have for an amount greater than the Small Claims Court limit must be abandoned. The sad reality is that a person such as this writer (who sounds like he has been quite poorly treated) is usually more interested in having their dignity and sense of self worth restored. That is not something the courts are good at, even if one wins the case.”
I hope these ten tips are helpful to you. Please let us know how things work out. Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.
Franke James, MFA
Editor & Founder, Office-Politics.com
Inventor, The Office-Politics® Game
Franke James, MFA is the Editor & Founder of Office-Politics.com. She is also the Inventor of The Office-Politics® Game a dilemma-based social game that teaches you how to play, and laugh, at office politics. It’s used by HR departments, and corporate trainers worldwide. The Office-Politics Dilemmas have been inspired by the hundreds of letters submitted to Office-Politics.com.