I have to be ethical, can I not be broke?
September 9, 2008 7:42 AM   Subscribe

Can a demotion be a firing and can I collect unemployment insurance?

Modesty aside, I'm a great employee and was a leader in my department. When my mis-managing manager was "re-assigned," I applied for the position and got it quickly. I've instituted a number of solid ideas, am working to turn stuff around, and am generally doing pretty well as the new department head.
Unfortunately, the owner of this small company where I work is out to lunch. He asks questions that betray a total ignorance for how our company actually works, goes hot and cold on issues that may or may not have anything to do with you, and generally irritates every person in the office. It is fairly regular that he will plead total ignorance on a document that earlier in the week he discussed at length with someone or in an entire meeting. I wish I was joking or exaggerating.
Several times before, he has made what I consider ridiculous requests of me. Usually he forgets them after a few days (and other department heads tell me to ignore them: the consensus among all the senior staff is that the requests are ridiculous and that he shouldn't be making them), but yesterday he made a few in a row and if he pushes me on them, I have to refuse to do them if I want to live with myself and for the department to continue to run.
That's the situation, here's the question: I refuse to be demoted for doing a good job due to the owner's personal problems. I don't want to quit, I make solid money and all that, but I won't return to a position where I can't solve problems in the department without managerial oversight (note that the owner doesn't have an issue with my work as a department head, he wants me to do other additional tasks, which I consider insulting to the staff, in addition to my regular solid work).
I'm trying to figure out my options if I have to reject his requests. Can I insist on being fired and, if so, can I get unemployment insurance? Get a severance package? What should I know? (I've got a blind governor if that changes things vis-a-vis the law.)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
anonymous: I'm trying to figure out my options if I have to reject his requests. Can I insist on being fired and, if so, can I get unemployment insurance? Get a severance package?

Huh? Don't insist on being fired. Geez.

You're taking your principled stand entirely too seriously. Just look for another job and quit if you get demoted. Feel free to tell them why you're quitting.

It'll be easier than litigation.
posted by koeselitz at 7:53 AM on September 9, 2008

Also, if you "make good money," unemployment insurance won't be worth much to you, and is therefore probably beside the point.
posted by koeselitz at 7:55 AM on September 9, 2008

(he wants me to do other additional tasks, which I consider insulting to the staff, in addition to my regular solid work)

What insulting tasks does he want you to do? And why haven't you told him that you find those tasks insulting? Or at least that they'd conflict with your job?
posted by koeselitz at 7:57 AM on September 9, 2008

Questions like this are better answered if you gave some hint as to where you are from. Labour law questions should probably be dealt by looking up the laws, rather than by asking strangers on Ask.Mefi. In Canada, if you are demoted, or your salary is pulled down, you can claim an effective dismissal. (The idea here is that employers can't force you to quit, thereby giving up your rights to severance.) That said, what you are describing isn't this situation at all. Your boss isn't demoting you, and he isn't lowering your salary. He's just asking you to do stuff you don't want to do. Your recourse here is to give your two weeks notice.
posted by chunking express at 7:59 AM on September 9, 2008

Chunking express: it took me a minute to figure it out, but "blind governor" suggests he's in NY.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 8:03 AM on September 9, 2008

Generally my understanding is that if you get fired "for cause" (and I'd think not obeying a directive from your superior would be cause) you can't collect unemployment.

Severance packages are entirely up to the employer - you're probably S.O.L.
posted by bitdamaged at 8:09 AM on September 9, 2008

In NY state, you can claim unemployment only if there was a reduction in work. So, for example, if you are a full-time employee and they make you a part-time employee, you can make a claim as long as you meet all the other criteria.

Getting fired for cause will disqualify you, and if you make a claim for unemployment after you either quit or are fired for refusing to do tasks the owner asks you to do, your former employer can challenge the claim, which can result in the state disallowing all unemployment benefits and imposing penalties, including disallowing benefits for several years even if you qualify again. There is no provision in the unemployment law for crazy bosses or insulting requests.

More info at the NY State Department of Labor website.

Your best bet is to just find another job with a less crazy boss.
posted by bedhead at 8:52 AM on September 9, 2008

the owner of this small company [...] total ignorance for how our company actually works [...] Usually he forgets [requests] after a few days (and other department heads tell me to ignore them: the consensus among all the senior staff is that the requests are ridiculous and that he shouldn't be making them), but yesterday he made a few in a row and if he pushes me on them, I have to refuse to do them if I want to live with myself and for the department to continue to run.

You could wait and see if he forgets his ridiculous requests. If he pushes you on his requests, you could consider it part of your job to explain to him, in terms he can understand, why his requests are ridiculous.

If you are unwilling or unable to do this, or you expect him to react badly, finding another job is probably the best option.
posted by Mike1024 at 10:20 AM on September 9, 2008

Is your boss a Psychopath? from Fast Company
posted by mutrux at 10:48 AM on September 9, 2008

I agree that your best option is to look for a new job. Until then, grin and bear it. Prepare for the day when you will quit or be fired. Increase your cash reserves and reduce spending. Cancel your cable TV subscription, for instance. Then you'll have a bit of a cash cushion to help you out when/if you leave.

I know the unemployment rate is higher than it has been in years, but that just means it will take longer for you to find a new gig. Doesn't mean it's impossible. I highly recommend Don Asher's Foolproof Job Search Workbook. It's all about networking your way to a new job, based on the premise that "people hire people they know and like". So the way to get a new job is to be known (and liked) by as many people as possible in your chosen field. Don't waste your time sending resumes in response to job posts--use informational interviews to gain intelligence and to make connections.

If you really can't take it then you can always just stop showing up for work. That will get you fired right quick.

Don't know about NY law but in CA one can file for unemployment regardless of whether you quit or were fired. If your former employer doesn't agree then he can contest the claim.
posted by mutrux at 10:57 AM on September 9, 2008

Forgive me, but you sound like you're making this situation way more dramatic than it needs to be. I'm not seeing anything here that suggests you're likely to be demoted -- especially if the boss routinely makes these oddball requests and forgets about them later.

Try to separate your personal feelings about the boss from the actual work issues. (Your question is about 80% personal animosity, 20% relevant information.) If these things he's asking you to do would truly interfere with your department's normal work, and really are outside the scope of your department's responsibility, then you should discuss it in those terms. If you can do this calmly and rationally, and in the presence of other department heads who agree with you, this will make it extremely unlikely that there will be any negative repercussions.

If, on the other hand, these oddball tasks are just a waste of time and an affront to your personal dignity, then you've got three options:
1) Suck it up. It's his company. Do what he says, and take pride in doing a kickass job at it even though you think it's a bad idea.
2) Resign, and find work elsewhere. (Severance will depend entirely on your contract. Unemployment, if you're a department head making good money, should be beneath your dignity even if you could get it. Demanding to be fired is, to be blunt, total drama queen territory.)
3) Quietly accept the tasks, make them lowest priority, make it clear to the employees assigned to them that this is just one of those dumb things you gotta do at work sometimes, and not to take it personally. Because, seriously: sometimes you gotta do dumb things at work, for dumb reasons. And you shouldn't take it personally.
posted by ook at 1:32 PM on September 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Here is some extensive verbiage on conditions for receiving unemployment after resignation. If demotion means the value of your position is substantially degraded you have a case but your boss can fight it. A severance package is between you and your boss, it's nothing the law guarantees (unless of course you have some sort of contractual promise of one). You can't really count on getting anything if you quit or are fired for (alleged) cause.

Your job sounds pretty dysfunctional, but if (as it sounds from the question) nobody is talking back to the boss about his mistakes, the problem isn't all on one side. Not that you need to fix that, but there it is. If I were you I would seriously be reading the want ads and brushing up that resume. Personally, among my friends I have never seen one of these "the job is okay but the boss is crazy" situations work out particularly well for the employee. And I've seen a few of them.
posted by nanojath at 4:15 PM on September 9, 2008

You don't want to hear this, I know, but you need to suck it up, and document. Every time you get one of these ridiculous requests, send an email. This should be an email that any sane person reading between the lines will recognize as you pointing out the cost to you and your team if you do the tast, and proving that you set up realistic expectations for when this will get done.

No, of course you don't have time for that kind of BS. None of us do. Well, except for guys like this boss.

It should go like this, at least in structure.

"Blah blah blah psycho, glad we got a chance to talk about project that I care about which matters. Various people on my team are doing a really great job on it as shown by these three concrete examples of how great where are which will matter and here's why. Because of this that and the other thing, I will not be able to look into that ridiculous request until such and such time, and if this thing that matters happen, we may push that back to right before hell freezes over in order to ensure that a thing that would be bad does not happen.

Next time we catch up, I want to talk to you about this super exciting thing we have in the hopper that is so way more important than that ridiculous task.

Kissy kissy,
Valued employee who is job-hunting behind your back
posted by Lesser Shrew at 6:06 PM on September 9, 2008 [5 favorites]

Very much what Lesser Shrew said, but I'll add to that a bit:

As a manager you need to sharpen your personal abilities involving diplomacy, psychology, negotiation, etc., because even if you are the A++ GREAT at handling your staff, your department's tasks and objectives, your budget, innovation, etc., a huge part of your job as manager is also handling the person or people above you, and, when necessary, negotiating with other departments. A very big part of what a great manager does is to act as a buffer between his people and the crazy/demanding/misguided/penny-pinching/whatever bosses... and this is your chance to work on this very essential skill. whether in the end you decide to stay or go, you can use this time to expand your managerial talent and experience in this vital area.

Your dilemma strikes a chord with me, because I was once a manager with a great immediate boss, but a horrible, horrible top-dog (CEO) boss. I won't go into details about the awfulness... but as just one example, my department was editorial - writers, editors, art - and my Bad BossTM once insisted that we get rid of all the books in our department. He thought they looked "messy". Well. We didn't. But I couldn't say, "hey, you're an IDIOT." I had to make noises that sounded like maybe we were going to do what he wanted, divert his attention to other things, obfuscate, delay, write reassuring little follow-ups, act as though we were all in agreement about this issue, certainly on the "same page", etc., and still stubbornly not ever do that ridiculous thing... until he forgot about it and was on to other crazy. There was worse stuff, and eventually (after years) I couldn't take any more, and I did leave... but part of me still regrets it a bit, because otherwise it was a fantastic job, with tons of perqs - and the next job I took? Another crazy boss. The issue that finally made me leave was totally ethical, regarding mistreatment and exploitation of staff people - but really, if I had stayed I could possibly have blunted that somewhat, and if I hadn't been planning to leave the country anyway, it probably would have been better to have stayed, at least until I was sure of a much, much better thing.

So, my suggestion is that even if you do leave over the boss thing, use this time to work on your tapdancing, wirewalking, firewalking, juggling skills, because as a manager, those can be almost more important than your actual task-related skills, believe it or not.
posted by taz at 1:11 AM on September 11, 2008

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