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Really, how screwed am I?
October 11, 2009 8:13 AM   Subscribe

Am I being fired? I was recently converted from a full-time employee at a $5 billion multi-national company to a contractor working at the same company. Now, my contractor boss has called me in for meetings with the contracting company's HR rep for "issues". Oh yeah, I'm pregnant too.

In July, my boss with the large multinational corp (who I'll call Big Company) called me into the office to say that I had two options since my position was being eliminated. I could take the severance package and be "laid off" or I could be converted to contractor and move to a lower level job I previously held at Big Company. My salary would increase a small amount to cover the additional cost for medical benefits with the Smaller Contracting Company. They repeatedly tell me it's not a demotion, but they had to make tough choices and thought that this would be a way to keep me in a job. I have had only positive reviews while being employed with Big Company.

When I looked into taking the job with the Smaller Contracting Company, several issues arose. The medical plan was not comparable which was no big surprise. I would earn less vacation, also not a surprise. However, I would have no maternity benefits. In addition, since I would not have been employed with the Smaller Contracting Company for more than a year I would not be eligible for FMLA. I brought this up as a serious issue and was given 6 weeks paid maternity. Finally, I was told that I wouldn't be eligible for COBRA because I was accepting the contractor role.

The contractor job is at Big Company, which is subcontracted by Small Company. I take the lower level contractor role at a slightly higher salary. My new boss, who is also a contractor, doesn't schedule regular one on ones with me or communicate to me in the same frequency or tone as my peers, generally avoids me, does not provide me the information I need to do my job, etc. Basically, we have some serious communication issues for which we are both responsible for.

I think the turning point of uncomfortable to serious was when I provided her feedback regarding one of my peers about 2 weeks ago. I covered for this person while they were on vacation and discovered many issues. In addition, I was asked by 3 coworkers in other departments to speak up about the issues surrounding this employee because many people feel that concerns voiced to my new boss have not been heard. When I raised the issues, my new boss got very defensive.

Monday she asked me to do something that I felt was unethical (I didn't tell her I thought it was unethical, but that's how I felt). I asked her to confirm with our finance folks on process before I proceeded.

Tuesday I worked from home and came in late Wednesday because we had gotten elevated risks on our baby for Trisomy 18. I was a total emotional wreck after receiving the news and thought it best to work from home. This situation has not helped me in "being cool". Between hormones and this news, I've pretty much cried at the drop of a hat.

Thursday she sends me a invite for me, her and her boss. I ask her boss about it and am told Small Contracting Company HR will be attending as well.

Friday we have the meeting and she pulls out a two page list of everything I'm doing wrong. I didn't keep my shit together and cry. I told her I felt cornered that the meeting came out of nowhere and that I wasn't prepared with my list of issues either. They call off the meeting because I'm a total wreck.

Now I'm sitting here trying to figure out my next steps. The fact there was a written list and the Smaller Company HR folks were there really makes me think they are trying to make a case for me to be fired.

Obviously, there's more to the story, but that's the general jist of it.

Here's the questions:
-Am I being fired?
-The nut in me thinks this may be a complex plot to eliminate me from the company in a manner that would have the lowest liability for the Big Company. Am I crazy?
-How should I meet with HR/bosses? I would like to propose we work on our communicating styles together in one meeting, so that at the next meeting we can discuss the "issues" in an understanding and supportive manner. Is this out of line? I hate the idea of preparing a tit for tat list and worry about delivering something like this.
-I have a multiple high risk pregnancy that makes it likely I may have pre-term labor. I am very worried about the stress on the baby and it contributing to this. My boss's boss has voiced a concern that may stress may be negative for my pregnancy. Should I ask to see if HR would be willing to make temporary medical accommodations for the stress induced by new boss? Ideally, I'd like to report to my boss's boss, although I am open to other positions. I think it would reduce stress dramatically.

Background:
The Smaller Contracting Company has over 50 employees, although maybe less than 150. It's hard to tell the total number because they work with a number of companies in the area.

I was employed with Big Company for 4 years. Big Company has serious financial troubles. There have been several rounds of lay-offs in the last year. In the past the lay-offs got rid of poor performers.

I will call a lawyer on Monday, but the meeting is on Monday, so insight is greatly appreciated.

This is in Texas.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
HR's job is to keep the company out of legal trouble. Suggest anything you want, but don't fall for the common misconception that HR is a counseling service, or that HR wants to help build some sort of consensus you and your boss, or that HR plays any role whatsoever as an employee advocate. They work for your employer, period -- not you. And by the way, of course you're not crazy. Your interpretation is probably true, except for one detail: no complex plot is necessary to fire an employee-at-will (even one who is pregnant). Also, I hope it's obvious that you damned yourself by voicing "feedback" about a peer to HR. You flagged yourself as somebody who can't get along with others. I'm very sorry you're going through this. Your best bet is to move on, unless your lawyer sees an EEOC violation in any of this.
posted by Wordwoman at 8:55 AM on October 11, 2009 [6 favorites]


no HR expert here, but you are coming across in this post as a bossy woman who believes that your obligation is to tell your superior how to manage. You view yourself as someone who has the authority and position to report wrongs regarding other "peers." You challenged your new boss "because many people feel that concerns voiced to the new boss have not been heard." It definitely would have been better for all of the other people involved to go to the boss en masse instead of appointing you as the messenger. Frankly, you sound like you sought the role as spokesperson, but now is YOUR head on the chopping block while these other unhappy coworkers are apparently safe and sound.

You are having a difficult pregnancy and therefore you feel that makes you special also. You are going to see an attorney. These are both red flags about your demanding style. Certainly women in the workforce do not have to stay mum and never raise grievances about things that concern them..but in your case, in this post, you sound like a wound up little Napoleon who soon will be without a job. Sorry about the crying jag that you went on..that is one more nail in your coffin.

Learn from all this and ratchet back the holier than thou attitude. You're a subordinate, and you'll never become boss (the position you actually covet) until you learn how check all the bluster and self importance at the door.
posted by naplesyellow at 9:20 AM on October 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm going to put this bluntly, but please don't mistake my cold tone for lack of sympathy to your situation. This is just the way these things work.

When you were moved to contractor status, the nature of your job changed in ways that you didn't realize. Contractors, especially at large companies, sometims operate in a different context of politics and responsibility than full-time salaried employees.

Let's cut to the chase and hit on the part of your story that jumps out the most. You ratted out a fellow contractor for incompetence. In this new culture of work (or lack of work) that you have entered, that is just not cool. Your new boss knows it, and so do your co-workers. They aren't about what's best for the company. They are about keeping themselves, and each other, in their jobs for as long as possible, and about getting along with each other and maintaining an easy-going work environment. By continuing to internalize the role for yourself as a "good soldier," you are coming off as a tattle tale and a pain in the ass.

You probably think that this is ridiculous and obscene, you refuse to compromise your integrity, you're the one who is doing your job, etc. In which case: find another job. Soon. Because you are not going to change the way things work.

Or maybe that's not an option, because of the economy, and/or because you're pregnant and you need stability, etc. In which case: change your attitude. Redefine your ideas of what it means for you to work for Big Company. You are no longer a brave knight fighting for what's good and right. Rather, you are a humble serf who is just trying to make it from one day to the next without getting executed. To wit: When your boss tells you to do something, do it. If you disagree, then do it anyway. If you see that a co-worker isn't doing their job properly, let them be the one to deal with the consequences of their own actions, or ask yourself what you can do to help them out in a way that will allow them to keep their job. And, when you have your follow-up HR meeting, take the floor right at the start, and give a lengthy and heartfelt apology for not being a team player. Blame personal problems (which you now have in check) for impeding your perspective: you have had an epiphany, and you now realize that the nature of your job has changed, and that you are ready to deal with that, and to take your boss at their word in terms how to best proceed. Tell them that instead of putting your energy into doing disruptive things like criticizing your co-workers' performance or questioning your boss' instructions, you'll be redirecting that energy into your own work.

If you are not willing to do this, then quit, or you will get fired or laid off. When the money crunch comes, it's the difficult people who get eliminated, not the lazy ones, and not the ones who don't check their boss' work with finance.

This may not be a description of the world you wish you lived in, but it is a description of the world that you do live in. Best of luck.
posted by bingo at 9:29 AM on October 11, 2009 [16 favorites]


Does the small company have an employee handbook? The easiest way to determine what the meeting could have meant, outside of asking your manager or HR directly, would be to see what the procedure is for addressing perceived employee issues. Optimistically, this could just be your manager realizing that they need to switch their managing style and keeping HR in the loop to make sure it's done correctly. Most likely, though, this is part of a documented process to address employee issues -- you should know how you would be expected to reasonably address their concerns, what the timeframe is and how changes will be measured, and how to keep the HR person in the loop when it comes to medical and leave issues as they may affect your perceived performance.

I would also check into the laws regarding your transition to a contractor position. It seems to me that you were laid off or voluntarily left your position at the large company, which may have made you COBRA-eligible. Taking a position at the smaller company may have negated that due to their relationship, but if they really are two distinct companies, it's worth checking to make sure you weren't mislead about your eligibility.

If you're having issues with your manager, keep it separate from this. Firing back with your own list doesn't look professional; it looks like you're trying to play he says/she says. If there's something they've documented that you believe is actually a shortcoming of the current manager/employee interaction, then propose that the solution would be to improve that relationship. It may change it from a small battle into a dialogue.

Overall, best of luck. You're in a rough situation, but one that should be resolvable, assuming that small company didn't hire you solely at the behest of the large company.
posted by mikeh at 9:38 AM on October 11, 2009


I would recommend going to an employment attorney. Pregnancy discrimination is illegal. It sounds like some of this might be motivated by your pregnancy. Good luck.
posted by bananafish at 10:02 AM on October 11, 2009


Also, I know you're pregnant and your hormones are raging. But don't cry during an HR meeting. If you're so upset you can't help it and you feel like you're going to cry just asked to be excused and go to the rest room.
posted by bananafish at 10:04 AM on October 11, 2009


OP,

I'm sorry for what you're going through.

What isn't clear from your text if you thought any of the concerns that your boss shared on their list were accurate. I'm assuming you think the answer is no, but I thought it was worth asking anyway. Because one way to read this is boss had issues with you, and rather than address you directly, went the HR route. Not great, they escalated, but okay. Do you think there are any on point concerns? But your response to this situation might change based on that.
posted by anitanita at 10:17 AM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


If there's any legal way to let you go they will find it. One thing to look for is backdating. HR people can be great, and I don't think they're all evil, etc. but they have motivations that are not necessarily in your interest. I'm not in the US, but something along the Human Rights Commission should be able to help you.

I think the turning point of uncomfortable to serious was when I provided her feedback regarding one of my peers about 2 weeks ago. I covered for this person while they were on vacation and discovered many issues.
You totally fucked yourself over with this one I think. Especially if the person is well liked. That is from my own experience. Even if it is a serious issue it always ends up looking like you tattled on the person, especially if it is another woman.

I'm coloring your experiences with my own, so take with a grain of salt obviously. Sexism is a huge huge problem still, something it has taken me forever to realize; people can deny it all they want but your attitude and actions are judged very differently from a man's. You're probably an overaggressive bitchy troublemaker who is going to take off and leave more work for everyone else shortly who can't act professionally in meetings.

I've gone to work when I was passively suicidal for weeks and cried in meetings like crazy. It doesn't matter what came before, the crying at work is just a huge black mark against you.

So meantime it's Sunday. You can read this and I know you're going to think about it incessantly but before then please try to take a time-out to eat, watch TV, do something passive that will relax you or pass time or distract you. You need it and your baby needs it and it won't affect things negatively to have some time to yourself today. All the best.
posted by variella at 10:18 AM on October 11, 2009


I'm going to be absolutely plainspoken with you because I think you deserve that. You were demoted when you were moved to contractor - not just in title, but in status and value. You are now contingency staff. You are no longer part of the long-term plans of that company. (You might research what the company's policy is on contractor duration. Many companies have a fixed limit on the time contractors can remain on staff.) I'm sorry to tell you this, but your relationship with Big Company completely different than it was when you were an employee.

-Am I being fired?
You're a contractor in Texas. They can release you at pretty much any point. One reason to hire contractors is you can flex the size of your workforce easily. Another is to rid the company of low performing/difficult employees with a minimum of fuss. Generally, I can see why your boss would be inclined to have you removed from her team as a contractor. You complain about your peers, run to her boss and set her up for embarrassment with other departments. You're not exactly coming across as a team player here

-The nut in me thinks this may be a complex plot to eliminate me from the company in a manner that would have the lowest liability for the Big Company. Am I crazy?
Doesn't matter. This is now relatively low liability for the Big Company since you are no longer their employee and you were released when your position was eliminated. You also accepted the offer of contracting after negotiating for additional compensation and maternity benefits.

-How should I meet with HR/bosses? I would like to propose we work on our communicating styles together in one meeting, so that at the next meeting we can discuss the "issues" in an understanding and supportive manner. Is this out of line? I hate the idea of preparing a tit for tat list and worry about delivering something like this.

HR is not there for you. HR exists to prevent litigation for the company. Stop thinking of HR as your union rep.

-I have a multiple high risk pregnancy that makes it likely I may have pre-term labor. I am very worried about the stress on the baby and it contributing to this. My boss's boss has voiced a concern that may stress may be negative for my pregnancy. Should I ask to see if HR would be willing to make temporary medical accommodations for the stress induced by new boss? Ideally, I'd like to report to my boss's boss, although I am open to other positions. I think it would reduce stress dramatically.
This is an issue to discuss with your doctor. He can put you leave or restrict your hours or physical demands of your work. However, I doubt he'll be willing to write a new org chart for you. HR doesn't select accommodations for you because HR is not qualified to make medical assessments. (Remember, HR is about liability.) HR will ensure that doctor specified accommodations are met.

I'm sorry; I have tremendous empathy for your situation. Every part of it is sucky..the contractor conversion, bad boss dynamic, difficult pregnancy, loss of benefits.

My advice to you is to focus on what will give you the greatest opportunity to deliver a healthy baby. If you need to simply negotiate a decent severance do that. This is just a job and a temporary one at that. Your child and your health are much, much more important.
posted by 26.2 at 11:30 AM on October 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


I covered for this person while they were on vacation and discovered many issues.

You might have your lawyer see if any whistle-blower anti-retaliation issues are relevant. It sounds to me like you are, at the minimum, going to at least be told that you are not performing satisfactorily and maybe get some some of "employee development plan" as an upgrade. Typically, (IME) those are designed to either be impossible enough to live up to, or vague enough that they can claim you didn't live up to it if they want.

It could be as simple as a no-blame meeting to say, hey, we aren't communicating here, let's hash this out with HR as a witness for documentation purposes. I somehow doubt it, though.
posted by ctmf at 11:40 AM on October 11, 2009


Ugh. My apologies for for my horrendus editig skils today.
posted by ctmf at 11:45 AM on October 11, 2009


There's nothing you can do here. You got set up in a completely legal - though unethical - way. Most of the people commenting here have probably participated in something similar. I remember when I got laid off by Blue Cross Blue Shield. It was my first real adult job after several tours in the desert. When Tri Care moved it's contract, we signed severances. Part of that was agreeing to work as contractors on other jobs until the end date. 3 days later, we were locked out of the building. All 1700 of us were terminated for various offenses. The LLC's handbook said that timecard discrepancies were grounds for termination. My entire team used military time on timesheets - our old boss preferred that. All 20 of us were released for timecard fraud. it simply wasn't possible for us to work until 1700 hours because the clock didn't go that high. The HR rep that met my team at the door said that with a straight face. we were fired, given our final paychecks - already printed - and our boxes. As far as I know, no one got the severance package they signed for.

Fucked up? Yup. Even the unemployment people felt bad for me, which is why I got it. But nothing could be done legally.

my son's godfather is an high level HR for BOA. He validates terminations for a living. He read this post and kinda laughed. I'm sorry.
posted by Davaal at 12:01 PM on October 11, 2009


There are some great answers here.

In short, without additional details it sounds like you are pretty screwed, and that it is quite possible it was by your own doing (whether you may feel that way or not...).

So, lets focus on resolution and next steps shall we?

First, best of luck with the meeting tomorrow. It will be an emotionally draining day one way or another so do your best to prepare yourself mentally for being let go so you don't cry or make a scene. Just get out of their as quickly as possible if they lay you off and don't sign anything without reviewing with your lawyer, particularly any attempts they make at giving you severance in exchange for immunity from lawsuits.

Now, I am most CERTAINLY not a lawyer so take this with a massive amount of salt, but the fear of a pregnancy discrimination suit might get them to change their behavior radically. I'd personally apologize for any recent emotional behavior and say it is due to potential complications in the pregnancy and has been very stressful. BUT, (and this is important) you have been working very hard on reigning in those emotions to prevent them from causing any further communication issues.

Make sure you get this in at the start of the meeting before anything else is said.

Also, try to figure out a way to paint yourself as a team player because from what you've explained nobody there thinks of you that way.

At the end of the day, if they've made up their minds already there's not much you can do about whether you keep your job there, but how you handle yourself from this point can have a serious impact on whatever your future holds in terms of possible severance or lawsuits.

Be smart, not emotional.
posted by Elminster24 at 1:45 PM on October 11, 2009


Generally if someone wants you to meet with them "and HR" and the person can fire you, you will be fired. That's what HR is for. Protecting the company and firing people.
posted by xmutex at 2:51 PM on October 11, 2009


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