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Was I fired with cause or not?
August 1, 2010 6:46 PM   Subscribe

I was "let go" from work the other day - I had already been on probation due to a bad review. The review was full of incorrect statements, which I had proof of but I didn't put up a fuss. I was given requirements to fulfill to show improvement. I met those times 3. They let me go anyway. I said that I had gone way farther even than I was asked to in the requirements, so why are you letting me go? The reason was "The decision has been made." I want to know, is this considered with cause, and can I get unemployment? BTW this is in Mass.

When I started there (as a quant developer on an interest rates trading desk) it was a new role, and they had no boss for me. I was constantly wondering what to do but I had a short list of projects so I worked on them until I basically ran of things to do. I would work on a project, improving it, until I was asked to do something else. I worked constantly and if I had nothing to do I would either come up with something or work more improving other stuff I'd done.

On my review I gave myself 3s out of 5s, "met expectations" - the traders whom I supported gave me all 1's (the worst possible) and said things like "I asked him to do this or that and he never did" - the things they referred to were sitting on my hard drive, done almost as soon as I was asked and waiting to be looked at. Traders of course don't have time for anything, but I would say "I did what you asked so come by when you want to check it out" and they often wouldn't. Other things they complained about were strange and vague like "he sometimes spaces out at meetings" - ok caught me there. Another was a project that they said took me months too long to complete. In fact it was complete and working within weeks, but this one trader would constantly ask me to add features, make trivial changes, etc., which I did. I asked him if he minded if I worked on other stuff in the meantime since it was working already working, but no. I was finally given a boss to whom I explained my situation and he was very sympathetic and gave me much better ratings.

Anyway after the review I was put on probation, and they said I had 90 days to improve and gave me list of projects and times I had to do to show improvement. 3 of the projects I had finished ages ago, and the rest of them I killed in about a fourth of the time allotted. I was also given another, direct boss to report to (not the nice guy) My boss complained that I would leave at 5, and sometime show up as late as 8:30. So I immediately started getting there at 8 sharp and leaving at 6. He complained that I would take breaks, in particular for lunch, so I stopped and skipped lunch. He then, amazingly, asked me to lie on my timesheets to say I was there only 40 hours a week even though I was required to work from 8-6 every day. I politely explained to him that I was non-exempt and that I was not comfortable lying, federal law, etc. He said do it anyway because he kept his own records and knew I worked longer and it was just a screw up that they had made me non exempt. The next day I messed up big time and put my alarm on radio instead of alarm and woke up at 11. I called him immediately, apologized profusely and offered to work till 9 to make up for the 3 hours. So I came in and he talked me in a way that was seriously beyond disrespectful. Of course I had made an honest mistake, the first time it had ever happened and I had been working 10 hrs a day for weeks before that.

After the way he talked to me I hit my limit and went up to HR to quit. Lucky for me, the HR guy wasn't in the office. So I worked the rest of the day, then they called me into the office and said "we're letting you go." OK - wasn't exactly heartbroken because I hated that place but I said, I've been working 8 to 6 despite my honest mistake today; I had finished my project the night before so there was nothing important that I missed (didn't actually say that part), and that I'd finished all my requirements in less than half the time allotted, plus a few extra ones, so why were they letting me go? "the decision was made" was their answer. I later asked again if they could tell me why and got verbatim the same answer. I asked about my career, to the effect of, how badly is my career screwed now? If another company calls and asks why I left etc, what do you tell them, and he said we only tell them the dates you worked here, literally nothing else. OK fine, then I politely thanked them and left.

My question is: was I fired with cause? Am I eligible for unemployment benefits? And how much must I tell my next interviewer?
posted by Astragalus to Work & Money (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
If they let you go then you can collect unemployment, I believe.
posted by Postroad at 6:52 PM on August 1, 2010


You can get unemployment. Sorry about this, nothing worse than the situation you were in. I am not really good at telling people what to do in this situation, but if you work in that type of environment again, be proactive. The trading and investment world is very alpha male (even if one is a female, like me), I worked in it for a few years. You have to be aggressive and assertive or they think you are not doing anything.
posted by fifilaru at 6:57 PM on August 1, 2010


File for unemployment. Unless you were fired for gross misconduct (like assaulting a supervisor or colleague) you should not have a problem collecting. Of course the usual disclaimers stand; I am not an HR person or an expert in unemployment yadda, yadda, yadda, However, I am currently unemployed (and because my workplace was totally effed and didn't pay their taxes, the state has no record of my wages so I've been unable to collect until that gets straightened out(. Long story short, I am becoming far too familiar with the ins and outs of unemployment. I think that you'll be fine.
posted by kaybdc at 7:00 PM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can I collect UI benefits if I am fired from my job?

Yes, even if you are fired you may be eligible for UI benefits. You can be denied benefits if you violated a known rule or policy which is reasonable and uniformly enforced, or for willful and deliberate misconduct in disregard of the employer's interests. To prove that you violated a known rule or policy, your employer would have to show that you were informed of the rule or policy, and that you knew that the acts or omissions which resulted in your discharge were a violation of the policy at the time you were doing them. They would also need to show that the rule is reasonable and that it treats all employees subject to the rule or policy in a similar manner when the policy is violated. To show that your actions were willful misconduct, the employer must show that the act or omission was purposeful or intentional. The employer would also have to show that when you committed the act of misconduct, that you knew it was contrary to the employer's expectations of behavior or its interests. If you are fired because you could not do the job, you will not be disqualified. In every discharge the DUA must make an inquiry to determine whether benefits can be given.


So, if your former employer is the vindictive type, then maybe. But if it is denied, you can contest it.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 7:08 PM on August 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


That said, file, file, file. First thing tomorrow morning. Here's the MA Labor and Workforce Development Site. They'll probably have you call back later in the week, depending on your social security number.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 7:10 PM on August 1, 2010


I was in the same position as you a couple of months ago (I apparently met all of the conditions put on me and was taken off probation though). It gave me a good 2 months to think while I was on probation though, and the only thought I could come up with was that "probation" was their corporate speak for saying "we are covering our asses." They give you very vague things to work on, so if you come back and try to sue for wrongful termination, they can claim you didn't fulfill those requirements.

I was lucky in that I trapped my manager into agreeing on a concrete to-do list that fulfilled the requirements given to me. I took them back at the end of the probation period and gave them evidence of how I fulfilled each requirement.

So, my point is that it might have been a formality corporate had to follow in order to get rid of you while still covering their asses for being sued/you asking for a severance/you claiming unemployment (which you shouldn't have a problem getting unless they dispute it, but I don't know how that works).
posted by TheBones at 7:13 PM on August 1, 2010


The probation thing is to humiliate you so that you'll quit, and then for sure you won't be able to collect unemployment. Once you're on probation you're already out. Anyway, I don't think you'll have any problem collecting unemployment. As for your next interviewer, s/he might think you're such a great fit that you barely even get questioned about why you left. Don't share unnecessary details.
posted by Wordwoman at 7:22 PM on August 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


A word of advice: Take your real name off of your profile, or have the mods anonymize this.

You don't want a future employer to see this when they google for your name.
posted by schmod at 7:32 PM on August 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


He then, amazingly, asked me to lie on my timesheets to say I was there only 40 hours a week even though I was required to work from 8-6 every day. I politely explained to him that I was non-exempt and that I was not comfortable lying, federal law, etc. He said do it anyway because he kept his own records and knew I worked longer and it was just a screw up that they had made me non exempt.

Ending up getting fired after this conversation sounds vaguely like retaliation. I wouldn't hesitate to run this by an employment law attorney to see if it got close enough to make a case, or at very least let the HR folks know about it so there will be less fuss when it comes to your unemployment claim or even severance negotiations.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 7:53 PM on August 1, 2010


Bear in mind that you were basically put on a "Professional Improvement Plan" or a PIP—which can have different names in different industries, but essentially is HR's kiss of death. This is the way a company fires someone while insuring they can't be sued. My read on this is that you were pretty clearly fired for cause. I'm looking at this from the employer's standpoint.

Let me highlight the things I noticed from your story -- and please know that I'm not siding with you or them.... just pointing out what I see.

• "I had already been on probation due to a bad review." -- This is in your HR file.

• "The review was full of incorrect statements, which I had proof of but I didn't put up a fuss." -- Meaning you let a bad review become part of your permanent file.

• "they had no boss for me" -- Indicating the company was never really committed to you as a hire, for whatever internal reason.

• "the traders whom I supported gave me all 1's (the worst possible) and said things like 'I asked him to do this or that and he never did'" -- Meaning that, at best, there is a severe clash between you and their corporate culture, and at worst that they saw you as not performing to spec.

• "Traders of course don't have time for anything, but I would say 'I did what you asked so come by when you want to check it out' and they often wouldn't." -- So in a culture that seems to want its support staff to go above and beyond, you appeared to sit back and wait to have your work verified.

• "Other things they complained about were strange and vague like "he sometimes spaces out at meetings" - ok caught me there." -- Clearly there is a culture clash here, and possibly a personality clash.

• "Another was a project that they said took me months too long to complete. In fact it was complete and working within weeks, but this one trader would constantly ask me to add features, make trivial changes, etc., which I did. I asked him if he minded if I worked on other stuff in the meantime since it was working already working, but no." -- This is understandable; this sort of thing happens... but again, in the company's eyes, a performance failure, when they've already put you on notice.

• "I was put on probation, and they said I had 90 days to improve and gave me list of projects and times I had to do to show improvement." -- Here's the black mark in the HR file, and the PIP they put you on. Please know that a PIP is pretty much the company's way of saying, "We would like to fire you right now, but the legal department requires us to do it this way."

• "I was also given another, direct boss to report to (not the nice guy)" -- Here they are again shuttling you around like a hot potato. The company has already marked you for dismissal.

• "My boss complained that I would leave at 5, and sometime show up as late as 8:30." -- They can point to this as insubordination.

• "So I immediately started getting there at 8 sharp and leaving at 6. He complained that I would take breaks, in particular for lunch, so I stopped and skipped lunch." -- They are pencil-whipping you here... looking for things to fuss over to justify the dismissal that is already planned.

• "He then, amazingly, asked me to lie on my timesheets to say I was there only 40 hours a week even though I was required to work from 8-6 every day. I politely explained to him that I was non-exempt and that I was not comfortable lying, federal law, etc. He said do it anyway because he kept his own records and knew I worked longer and it was just a screw up that they had made me non exempt. " -- If you had done this, they probably would have used the forged timesheets for cause anyway.

• "The next day I messed up big time and put my alarm on radio instead of alarm and woke up at 11. I called him immediately, apologized profusely and offered to work till 9 to make up for the 3 hours." -- Nail in the coffin for cause. You are already on probation, and your boss has already complained about you showing up on time, when this happens.

I don't know the MA rules for receiving unemployment when you've been fired for cause—but from your story, it looks like the company does have a reasonable case for cause. Sorry this all happened; hope it works out for the best for you.
posted by pineapple at 8:16 PM on August 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Seriously, file. Let them deny it. They probably will not bother. Of course, I'm not certain of that.
posted by josher71 at 9:32 PM on August 1, 2010


Astragalus: "And how much must I tell my next interviewer? "

When asked, I'd just say you weren't a good fit for the Wall Street culture. People kinda know what it's like. Based on your story, you might also mention that the role was a new experiment for the desk (if you had no boss or other quant developers to talk to, you probably were experimental). You don't have to tell them anything, but it'll be weird if they ask and you don't have a good, prepared answer for it.

Think about it for a moment; they wanted to fire you ever since the review where traders were evaluating your work, but were too busy to actually take a look. Unless a miracle happens, whoever replaces them is in the same environment, poised for the same fall. It may take two or three flameouts before someone decides it's the organization not you. For all I know, the whole enterprise could be one redemption away from folding anyways, at which point it's your word vs Defunct Trading Desk.

This does mean though, that you need to reconsider the workplaces you pursue. Another job on Wall Street may be incompatible with your lifestyle and behavior. I hope this isn't crushing your dreams here too hard, but the 40 hour work week and trading don't mix. Insurance companies and local banks often need your type, without the high stress, combative workplace.
posted by pwnguin at 9:34 PM on August 1, 2010


Yeah I clearly didn't "belong" or "fit in" there - and there was cause in the sense that it wasn't like there was no reason whatsoever - but from what I've read, the legal definition of "cause" means "gross misconduct" i.e., intentionally violating policy, harming the company - things like stealing, etc. For example showing up at 8:30 and leaving at 5, taking no time for lunch - my official hours are 8 to 5 with an hour unpaid for lunch - coming in late is clearly not good but I think it is far from gross misconduct and I ended up working half an hour more than I was required to anyway. Recall that I don't need to convince an HR person here, rather the person at the unemployment office. But I'm going in tomorrow to file in we'll see if they contest, and if they do, we'll see if they end up winning. The thing is I had good relationships with everyone in the firm, at least outwardly, and never just decided not to do something I was asked to for some reason - and I worked whenever I was there, I didn't slack when I was at my desk. Frankly don't know why they hired me - they had barely anything for me to do - I suspect I was there to be the i.t. person to take the blame from the trading desk rather than the higher-ups. But who knows. Point is there is always "cause" for some definition of cause, but there is a specific legal definition here and I'm not sure what it is, but from what I gather, my performance does not meet that.
posted by Astragalus at 9:42 PM on August 1, 2010


I've had 2 other "wall street" jobs, high stress, all that, and frankly much more challenging. I did extremely well at both. My least favorite thing is being at work with nothing (or nothing with a point) to do. That's what was killing me at this job. But yeah, I definitely prefer to deal with more laid-back people and would definitely love to consider a career change, but all my experience is with finance, and my background is in math, physics, and programming - I have a master's in math from a top school and a ba in math/physics from another top school. If anyone has any other ideas for careers please let me know! I don't like finance I just happen to be good at it (despite the canning - take my word for it - I'm good).
posted by Astragalus at 9:51 PM on August 1, 2010


I was just addressing the trailing question at the end about what to do about interviewing with new employers, as I have no clue about unemployment law. It sounds like this really was a speculative hire that they weren't capable of putting to good use. Hopefully you've kept in touch with people at your old jobs who can serve as references.
posted by pwnguin at 10:21 PM on August 1, 2010


Yeah, references shouldn't be a problem for me. As far as employers, my plan is to say that a lot of traders have left recently (true), there's been a lot of shake-up (true), and they decided to simply reduce trader support rather than hire new traders (probably true) - actually we has a meeting recently where the boss said "there's been some complaints from the ceo about why we have so few traders and so many it people" which I think is a very good point. Of course I would put some of those it people to working generating some p&l - maybe algorithmic trading, etc. Especially the ones with almost 5 yrs of experience in finance :) but this company was imho not well managed. Basically if you were one of the chosen few you had a ton of power and if you were one of the plebs noone listened to word you said. Pretty dumb way to do things.
posted by Astragalus at 10:32 PM on August 1, 2010


Machine learning is a hot field. Also, computer vision. Both are math-intensive. Not necessarily more laid-back, but you'd probably work with more reasonable (technical) people.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 1:18 AM on August 2, 2010


The review was full of incorrect statements, which I had proof of but I didn't put up a fuss.

At this point it's too late, but in the future, if something like this happens again, maybe you shouldn't sign off on an inaccurate review.
posted by dzaz at 4:21 AM on August 2, 2010


I'm in MA. File. They MAY fight, but fight with them until you can't fight anymore. I've had friends -people from my own former company even (which may be the company you were fired from, large financial services firm based here in Boston, not publicly traded) - fired in this way. They fought, and won. The day before one was supposed to go in for his hearing, unemployment called and said the employer dropped the case. I'm pretty sure DUA is looking out for employers dumping employees under the guise of firing them to avoid paying out for laying them off.
posted by kpht at 6:17 AM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Astragalus: Stop reliving all the hellish details of this job and file for unemployment already.

The employer can certainly contest your claim, but I consider their case pretty weak on the facts you shared. One thing they sure as hell do not want to be discussing with the Massachusetts Dept. of Labor is your claim that they asked you to lie on your timesheet. If they dispute your claim, focus on that -- it will shut them up in a hurry.

But seriously, stop reading this, get righteous, and file for unemployment NOW.
posted by gum at 10:15 AM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


No direct advice, but I went through a very similar situation. My ex-boss even disputed unemployment (with substantially less evidence than in your situation). Disputed or not I was able to receive unemployment in a couple of months anyway.

I was fortunate to be able to make ends meet until I got my next job. And it was that job that totally turned my life around, got me traveling all over the world, recognition for my good work etc.

I happened to see that boss in at a restaurant just recently. I recognized him before he recognized me, and decided I would play the friendly-"high-road". I casually regaled my corporate conquests, travels and success to him. Shook his hand and walked away.

It was the best day ever.

TL;DR: This is not necessarily a bad thing.
posted by rickim at 12:49 PM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, I filed on Monday, no problems, the guy said I should expect a call from an adjuster since I was "Discharged" rather than "Laid Off" but I have received no call yet. I emailed both the HR guy and the bosses boss (i.e., the nice one, not the evil one) and said "no hard feelings, sometimes things don't work out and maybe I just wasn't a good fit for the job. I'm sure it's no fun having to let someone go, and I wish you the best of luck, etc." The boss's boss guy said something to the effect of "I really liked you and think that if we had started off better (i.e., before you were already on probation) we would have done quite well - maybe you weren't a good fit for the job - I'm sure you'll do well and good luck, etc." I won't be sending such an email to the guy who asked me to lie etc. but everything I said to his boss was true and he seemed to appreciate it. I wonder if the reason I haven't received a call from an adjuster is because they're not disputing anything. So we'll see. I have an interview with pretty hardcore company in NYC tomorrow morning - I almost hope I don't get the job so I can take some time to travel etc. but I'll give it my best shot nonetheless. Thanks for the supportive words people, and I'll let you know how things go. BTW so you think there is any reason I shouldn't name names here (of companies)? It might help future appliers to know how specific companies act sometimes and unless there's a good reason why not?
posted by Astragalus at 7:52 PM on August 4, 2010


Yep, got a letter from the company today specifically saying that I was eligible for unemployment benefits and it even had a completely unexplained check for 250ish bucks! I never got my stuff back from my desk though :( But hey, there ya go hope it shows up. Guess I'm good otherwise! Thanks so much guys for your help through this strange and confusing time and I guess my advice would be if you don't like your job but can stand it - don't quit! Let them fire you! Do everything that would reasonably be expected from you but when they try to hound you by, say, denying you lunch breaks (for non exempt employees) or whatever, take lunch, and relish it. Don't work a minute more than you have to. It seems like it would suck big time to be exempt - are there any benefits to being an exempt (salaried not hourly) employee whatsoever? Maybe this is another ask mefi qiestion... ok thanks folks!
posted by Astragalus at 3:03 PM on August 5, 2010


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