Might get fired! how do I plan?
February 12, 2014 4:39 PM   Subscribe

The CEO of my company is kind of... mercurial, and given to dramatic gestures. I've been overhearing yelling about productivity and firing people (their office is right next to mine and their voice carries). Yesterday I heard my name mentioned. I am... not in a great position to get a new job. Help me plan for the worst?

Details:
The CEO usually is not involved in the day to day goings on in the company until there is a problem. Then, My they come in and make sweeping changes without consulting the people who are actually doing the job (and thus might have a better idea of how to fix things.

My job involves a lot of admin work- necessary, but not directly profitable. The CEO had decided this is a problem. My immediate manager (who is awesome) has always told me what I'm doing is needed, and also that I do a really good job and that he'll stand up for me because he needs me, but I'm concerned they may just fire me on a day when he's out of the office. (They've done this before, although not to his employees). The reason the company is in trouble is because almost a whole department quit recently because they were treated badly & paid poorly. My department is picking up slack, but it means we're less efficient. Our awesome manager is the only reason we're still here.

I wouldn't be so concerned if I'd been a perfect employee, but recently I've been having a bad depressive & anxious spell. My immediate manager knows about this and has been supportive, but I've caught some mistakes I made and I'm afraid there's more I haven't caught. In this business, a mistake can sit dormant for months and then rear up suddenly. People have been fired because of something they'd done wrong half a year before if the wrong person caught it. Now the CEO is personally checking things, and I'm afraid any mistakes I've made, combined with the non-profitability of my position will lead to me getting the axe. If I'm fired for cause, I can't get unemployment (I'm pretty sure? I'm in Southern California). And of course, in the meantime, hearing them yelling through their office is making me so stressed I can't concentrate (so more mistakes and less productivity, yaaay). Based on past experience it might blow over, or they might fire half the people here.

I want to leave anyway (can you tell it's not a great environment?) But my credit is lousy, and I've got student loans and rent that take up most of my paycheck, so I have no savings. Worse, my drivers license might be suspended. There was a mix up with my payment of a fixit ticket, of all things, and while I paid the fine apparently there was something else I didn't do, and I can't find the letter and haven't dealt with it because the depression made it overwhelming to think about, and I still have no idea how to even start dealing with it. I can walk to my current job, but that... kind of limits my potential job search. I don't have a degree and my attempts to finish have stalled because of money (no more deferment on student loans even if I'm still in school and my parents are cosigners so I can't just bail) and depression (treated now, but it waxes and wanes).

Ugh. I know this is a lot. I'm sorry. I'm just completely overwhelmed- I can't even begin to think of how to proceed. I need to get out of here, that's clear, but I don't know how much time I have to plan, so all I can do is panic. Any tips for steps to take, or how to get through the day with curling under my desk in a catatonic stupor?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
If I'm fired for cause, I can't get unemployment (I'm pretty sure? I'm in Southern California)

Nope, that's incorrect. If you're fired for misconduct, you generally can't get unemployment. However, mistakes are not misconduct. Misconduct requires deliberate action on your part (like burning down your workplace, Office Space style). Even if the company did try to call your work misconduct, they would have to prove it to the state unemployment department, which tends to favor the worker over the employer (especially in a state like California).

Any tips for steps to take, or how to get through the day with curling under my desk in a catatonic stupor?

This isn't very helpful, because this is a learned skill, but... stop caring. If your employer yells at you, don't say anything, don't respond, and just think "I'm still getting a paycheck". If you feel you've made a mistake, work out if there's anything you can do in the future, make any changes that come out of the thought experiment, and then just think "I'm still getting a paycheck".
posted by saeculorum at 4:51 PM on February 12 [22 favorites]


It sounds like you should be trying to get a new job ASAP regardless so try to put aside your worry and just focus all your energy on that. That way, if you get fired you've already got a head start on your job hunt and if you don't get fired you're still making good progress towards getting out of a toxic work environment.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:56 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


I can't even begin to think of how to proceed.

Regardless of whether they take out their problems on you or not, you say you want to find another job. So nomatter what happens, you want to find a job.
So... start at the start: Make a start writing/updating/polishing your resume tonight or when you get a chance.

Noodle around job listings online, just dipping a toe in to get a feel for what's out there, what job hunting sites are best for you, what aspects and skills people are looking for (with an eye to improving your resume), keeping an eye out for ways you can make yourself a stronger candidate, once/if you get serious about job hunting.
Maybe ask friends if they know of any positions hiring, or to keep an eye out for you.
Take it slow for now, make some headway getting your ducks in a row. Don't panic.
posted by anonymisc at 5:01 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]


Worse, my drivers license might be suspended. There was a mix up with my payment of a fixit ticket, of all things, and while I paid the fine apparently there was something else I didn't do, and I can't find the letter and haven't dealt with it because the depression made it overwhelming to think about, and I still have no idea how to even start dealing with it.

Nah don't worry about the letter, you don't need it. Just call the DMV and ask, they will tell you what you still need to do.
posted by cairdeas at 5:03 PM on February 12 [12 favorites]


Saeculorum is dead on with regards to unemployment. Any number of mistakes, especially if they are not intentional or malicious, would not constitute "for cause."

I definitely hear that you're in a tough situation. I also want you to understand that a lot of us get in certain states where we need to take care of things, but for whatever emotional or psychological reason we won't address it. We put on blinders and we cover our eyes. I do it. Everyone does it.

The good thing about your situation is that you know specifically the things you have to do. Can I ask you gently to look into the license situation tomorrow or Friday? You can figure it out - you know you can - you just need to set aside time and make it a priority, because that sounds like an important piece.

After you get that done, make a list of the next three things that need to get done. As you mentioned that you'd like to find a new job, if touching up your resume is one of these things you feel you need to do, let me know. I work in staffing and I'd be happy to review it and offer suggestions. Just message me.

And remember: It'll be okay. You do need to take action now that you know there are some things to get done, but it will be okay. Focus on what you need to do first and get it done - you can do this.
posted by glaucon at 5:06 PM on February 12 [8 favorites]


I hope you make it through this, but be prepared --- among other things, that means making sure your work computer is clear of anything personal, and any personal property you wouldn't want to risk losing is removed..... there are companies and bosses who'll have terminated employees (whether they were fired or they quit) escorted directly off the premises.

Also, try to collect references and contact information now; it'll be easier than doing it once you've left.
posted by easily confused at 5:07 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]


See if you can take a few days off, sort out your license and prepare your resume. Then apply for a bunch of jobs.

When you return, go back as a short timer. Do your job and invest NO emotion in it.

Get your anxiety u set control, see a doctor for an Rx if need be.

You'll be fine.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:12 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Control what you can control: get your license sorted, update your resume, research decent temp agencies in your area and get together any documents you might need to sign on with them, and put out a discreet word to friends and former co-workers that you're looking. Because even if you don't get fired right now, you need to be looking for a less toxic place to work! Oh, and go on the unemployment site to familiarize yourself with their procedures, and get together any documents you might need for that.

In the meantime, at work, just keep your head down and work as best you can. Good luck.
posted by rtha at 5:22 PM on February 12


First of all, this is a big if. You may not get fired. People using your name in a heated conversation is not the same thing as getting fired, so take a breath and don't let the possibility of getting fired keep you from doing your job.

As someone who has gotten fired several times, I reccommend the following:

1. Go ahead and migrate your email to another server, if you are using work email. I'm not suggesting you steal company secrets, but I lost correspondence with a friend who is no longer in my life because my email got locked while I was in the meeting getting fired. Don't assume you'll have access if anything happens. Go ahead and get what you need/want, including samples of your work.

2. Speak to your immediate supervisor. In retrospect, I was given several opportunities to move to another position in my company before I was officially fired. I was too stubborn to listen/try. Speak to someone who is not your main boss about moves that might benefit you, at least in the short term.

3. Make sure you have a record of what you deem your "mistakes." As mentioned above, denying someone unemployment is pretty hard to do unless you straight up do something felonious, but if the boss if a bit ... crazy ... he might try, and so it is best to have documentation that yes, you did complete Project X, even though the response to it was underwhelming. That goes back to the email issue -- if you have emails from your immediate supervisor saying you have been doing well (or at least doing your job), then you can pass those on if there is an unemployment inquiry.

4. If you have insurance, go ahead and schedule dentist, eye doctor, and other appointments. When I got wind of my firing, I went ahead and got new glasses and had a cavity filled. You might also investigate your vacation/sick day policies -- if you get fired effective immediately (or even if you don't), then you may be able to make them buy out your accumulated vacation/sick days, which can provide a little extra severance if you have a decent amount of days saved up.

5. Finally, it sounds like you want/need to leave this job. In the event that you don't or can't, then you can also request a meeting with your supervisor and ask for a performance review and a clear list of issues that you plan to tackle. If you have a cordial relationship, then you might be able to confide your concerns and ask for ways to prove yourself.Then you can create a timeline and another check in for a month from now, etc. This way, you are on record for demonstrating your commitment to your job and you hav a clear list of what you have done to improve.

Good luck!
posted by mrfuga0 at 5:45 PM on February 12 [6 favorites]


Just for comparison purposes, I once had a job where my boss started threatening to fire me--to my face, even, openly. On a regular basis. So regularly that he was still doing it nine months later when I told him I was giving him my two weeks' notice, and he turned right around and asked if I could stay for at least three to wind up one last project. The anxiety is the thing in your brain telling you that this is something you need to fix RIGHT THIS MOMENT.

Start with baby steps. Make the phone call to ask about your driver's license first. Focus on handling that one thing. Once that thing is handled, then focus on your resume, and then sending it out, say, to one place. Then to five places a week. Start with things that can be handled in the next 24 hours, you can't sort out your whole life in a day but you can make one phone call.
posted by Sequence at 6:01 PM on February 12


You need to start making a paper trail: evidence that you tried your hardest to succeed in your position and that you brought up concerns about your work load several times during your employment so that, when it comes time for the CEO to start lopping off heads, you will have a defensible position, and you are less likely to be decapitated. This will buy you some time to get out of the company and help to smooth over your résumé ex post facto.
The reason the company is in trouble is because almost a whole department quit recently because they were treated badly & paid poorly. My department is picking up slack, but it means we're less efficient. Our awesome manager is the only reason we're still here.
The situation is that you are under pressure and you're afraid you will make a mistake. Right? Maybe you made some legitimate mistakes, but you probably could have avoided them if given more time/resources. At least, theoretically, it's possible that your mistakes were the product of a broken system, not merely caused by one incompetent employee in an ideal situation.

So now that you've got your story straight, you just have to get that in the permanent record somewhere. I'd start with your boss, since you seem to have a good relationship. Say you don't have the bandwidth for X, Y and Z, and you're afraid that you will make a mistake. Your boss probably knows this, but you have to say it, probably three or four times. Send your boss an email outlining your concerns. Forward it to your personal email address.

Do you have a dedicated HR department? Go to them after talking with your boss and say you have some concerns about your workload and the pressure on your department. Make sure to couch this in terms of the success of your team, etc., to distinguish it from everyday complaining about work. (You might invite your boss to this meeting, but that might seem like an aggressive move, so proceed with caution.) The important thing is that HR has a line in a spreadsheet somewhere that says "Employee #1213536 expressed concerns about work load on department X", and you have a record forever emblazoned into your company's email server that says you expressed your concerns.

Then you start looking for another job. Try to maintain a good relationship with the people directly above and lateral to you on the org chart so that you can pull them as a reference later. Hopefully, you've made it inconvenient and difficult to get rid of you without drama and/or legal implication, and you find a new job and gracefully exit the company before the rafters snap and the whole thing comes down. Then you apply a little spit-shine to your résumé, throw in some references to aforementioned friendly ex-coworkers, and forget this lamentable moment in your life. Worst-case scenario, you get shit-canned before you can get a new job, and you have a plausible case for unemployment benefits and a good story for explaining this at interviews.

(Can you tell I've done this before?)
posted by deathpanels at 6:23 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Some good advice here. I'll add mine:

- Assume the worst. Go ahead and prepare yourself, both practically and emotionally, for being fired. It's ok to look down the barrel of that cannon so that if/when it happens, you will have prepared yourself with how to react and respond.

- Export your contacts and calendar, in addition to your personal files and emails. Having the last year's calendar has been very helpful for me on both a professional and personal level.

- Grab some boxes and stash them behind your door.

- Make a list of the first 10 people you'll call or email to let them know you're on the market and to ask for their help with your search. Use your contacts and LinkedIn. Then make a list of 10 more, and 10 more after that.

- Dig out your employee handbook and make sure you understand everything you are entitled to (severance, COBRA, vacation, etc.). Pay attention to when insurance coverage ends, if that is a concern. For example, in my case if my last day had been the 15th or earlier, my health insurance coverage would have ended on the last day of that month (and some coverage actually would have ended on the last day of the PREVIOUS month). I was able to negotiate for my last day to be recorded as the 16th, so my coverage was extended to the last day of the following month.

- Confirm whether your direct supervisor is willing to give you a positive reference, or at least understand exactly what the company will say if a future employer called (I wish I'd done this - not knowing what my last boss would say about me has been a source of some anxiety).

- Know that this experience DOES NOT DEFINE YOUR WORTH as an individual or an employee!
posted by Sweetie Darling at 7:13 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]


Do you have a dedicated HR department? Go to them after talking with your boss and say you have some concerns about your workload and the pressure on your department. Make sure to couch this in terms of the success of your team, etc., to distinguish it from everyday complaining about work.

It is a spectacularly bad idea to go to HR pretty much ever. They do not exist as impartial arbitrators. They work for management. They are not duty bound to dispassionately mark down your complaint in a spreadsheet so as to help you plead your case later, nor are they in the least bit obligated to keep your complaint confidential. In fact, they are now likely to expedite your departure because now on top of everything else, you are a troublemaker trying to make an end-run around your manager. Advice: lay low. Don't let them intimidate you into quitting without another job. Make sure there isn't personal info on your computer, and that you can vacate your office at a moment's notice. Make sure you have contact information for colleagues who can provide a reference for you in the future. Nod and smile a lot and know that this too shall pass. Best of luck!
posted by Wordwoman at 7:28 PM on February 12 [6 favorites]


Try to focus on the future.
posted by amtho at 9:53 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Some really good advice here. I had something like this happen to me, but more directly and with an actually mentally ill boss, and at the time I thought it was the end of the world. But yeah, it wasn't.

Compartmentalizing is your friend right now. I have kept a line from the movie Julia in my head ever since I saw it, and it helps me remember to compartmentalize tasks and not get overwhelmed with all the things that are wrong: We can only do today what we can do today.

So start with the basic tasks, like others mentioned: sort your license out, then get your work stuff sorted. Take it one piece at a time. Remember to breathe. And I agree with wordwoman that HR is often worse than useless -- I could tell you horror stories but you don't need that right now.

And when you're not at work, rely on your friends and family if you can. Let people know that it's time for you to move on. Don't get too far into it, or make it sound like you're a disgruntled employee, just keep it as businesslike as you can, but the more people know, the more opportunities might come up.

Just remember that you can only do today what you can do today.
posted by emcat8 at 11:18 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Oh my goodness, so sorry to hear all this. Just one comment: There is a TON of great advice here, both on the practicalities and the mental/emotional approaches to try. But if it's overwhelming you to have so many good things to do, try this:

Do one thing a day toward getting a new job. Then when it's done, you've met your goal for the day and get to pat yourself on the back! Yay, you!
posted by orange (sherbet) rabbit at 7:44 AM on February 13


I agree it looks overwhelming. If this were me, I would get out my spiral notebook and make a separate page for each topic:
1. License
2. Job Hunt
3. Live with this sucky job

And then go through this thread (or use your own ideas) and write things down as a checklist under each category.

For me, having it organized, having a list that I can check off, having a list that I can go to when I'm all "OMG I don't know what to do !!!" becomes "Oh - I can pick one thing off my list" and it helps me calm down.

If the lists looks too big, then I leave those 3 big lists out there as a reference, turn the page, and write a new list called "Things to do TODAY" and I choose one thing from the big list to write down, or one thing from each category, or whatever I think I can do today.
posted by CathyG at 8:58 AM on February 13


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