Who let me go?
September 18, 2009 7:00 AM   Subscribe

Temp work question: Why, after six weeks of increasing hours and responsibilities, was I let go, just when I'd finalized my health insurance with the agency? Who let me go?

In July, I started working for a corporation as a part-time temp. I was a catch for them, as I knew their outdated software. My immediate supervisor mentioned that it was nice that she didn't have to train me. Other people in the department said I made their jobs easier. I was regularly given more responsibilities.

At the beginning of September, I was asked by a mid-level manager to work full-time (still via the temp agency). I accepted, and was given more tasks and more hours.

Because I was now working full-time for the temp agency, I looked into getting their health insurance. It took a few e-mail exchanges before we figured out how to do this. Finally, last Friday, the temp agency's home office and I got this straightened out.

I was told that Friday night that Corp had let me go, "because their needs had changed." I can't think my work had anything to do with this, but corps are fickle, so okay: I'll take it. I met with the temp agency the following Monday, who asked me what I thought had contributed to this.

Frankly, I can't think of a thing. Except I wasn’t comfortable in their work station so I asked the head of the corp's department how much I could utilize the ergonomics liaison, and she said, "As much as you need to." I saw the liaison and consulted a chiropractor (on my own time and paid for via my COBRA), and was just getting comfortable by my last day.

I wonder if my pursuit of health insurance via the temp agency and my ergonomic discomfort had anything to do with my termination.

The temp agency requested that I not contact Corp with any questions.

It's been a week now, and it doesn’t feel right. There's no reason for Corp to let me go just after they'd asked me to take on more hours and more responsibility. Is it possible corp’s department wanted to hire me but corp wouldn’t pay the temp agency’s fees? This makes no sense, as I was willing to work as a temp. Is it possible the temp agency just didn’t want me on their health insurance books, and therefore said corp didn’t want me back? I have a genetic condition (say, akin to excezma) that requires medication, which I don't hide.

Possibly I’m trying to make sense out of nothing, but it just feels odd. I'd appreciate other views on the situation.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
quite possibly a major administrative change at the corporation. sometimes someone in accounting says 'no more temps!' and that's that.
posted by lester at 7:17 AM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Well that's the danger and problem of temp work. You have zero job insurance and two, not just one, employer trying to screw you.

I bet there was a budget for the work you were doing, a beancounter looked at it when you inquired about the insurance (at either the temp office or corporate, which ever institution would "suffer" if you had access to health care) and suggested that the budget be "adjusted" and that was that.
posted by RajahKing at 7:19 AM on September 18, 2009

Was the temp agency making a request or a YOU ARE FORBIDDEN BY SOMETHING YOU SIGNED statement? How was it worded? Even for temp work this sounds weird.
posted by variella at 7:20 AM on September 18, 2009

I dunno... it doesn't sound that odd to me. My mother did temp administrative work for years and years, and often jobs would end in a similar way. It's expensive to hire temps, and they don't want to pay the fee to hire you full time, so when the Temp Budget gets exhausted they fire you and make due, or bring on some kid who will get paid less than the temp agency charges.

As for the health insurance, if the client was happy with you it would be a pretty weird agency to pull you from the job to keep you from going full-time.
posted by muddgirl at 7:28 AM on September 18, 2009

When I'm doing contract to hire or if I'm bringing in a contractor for a defined period then I negotiate the hourly rate with the agency upfront for the entire period. The agency figures out their profit margin and sends me candidates in that range. I choose one and pay the negotiated length for the rest of the contract. It doesn't matter to me what changes in terms occur between the contractor and the agency I'm not paying more. I suspect your agency pulled you.
posted by IanMorr at 7:34 AM on September 18, 2009

Could it be that the temp agency requires more money from companies when an employee is getting health benefits and the company wasn't willing to pay more?
posted by Kimberly at 7:35 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

or...rate for the length of the contract...even

I should also add that it's coming up to the end of the quarter and a lot of departments everywhere are being asked to cut costs. If this had happened next week I'd figure that's what it was, so that the savings could be booked, but it happening on the 11th makes me lean more towards the idea that the agency wasn't making enough profit on you.

If you have anyone at the company you're still friendly with I would casually ask them if your position has been filled.
posted by IanMorr at 7:39 AM on September 18, 2009

Yes, your medical condition and your health inquiry could very well have directly caused your termination and this does not sound outside of the brutal norm of the temp world at all. A company hires a temp because they need a job done but with the flexibility of being able to walk away from the situation at a moment's notice. Having been a temp myself, and having hired temps, I think most companies value "convenience" from their temps as much or more as "excellence." My bet is that once you were perceived to be inconvenient, the company called the temp agency and requested a different temp.
posted by mrmojoflying at 7:42 AM on September 18, 2009

Except I wasn’t comfortable in their work station so I asked the head of the corp's department how much I could utilize the ergonomics liaison, and she said, "As much as you need to."

This might have been a red flag to them. You're a new employee, just barely got health insurance and you're already having ergonomics issues. They could've believed there might be disability problems in your past or potential problems in the future and didn't want to deal with the hassle or expense. Totally unfair, I know, but they probably saw it as covering their collective ass.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 7:43 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

It could have been that. I also had some ergonomics issues at one of my old jobs, but I didn't start having them for a couple years, and I handled it as simply as I could think to do so ("the new chairs we got yesterday hurt my back, could I maybe just keep one of the old chairs?" "Sure.")

But it could also....NOT be. I got let go from one long-standing temp job because it was at a university which had a strict policy about temps -- they could only work for six months, period, after which you had to either hire them outright or let them go. But the university also had a hiring freeze going on. My boss there actually outright lied to HR at one point to try and circumvent this ("When was EC's start date?...uh....five mo- I mean, one month ago. Yeah.") but we got found out and I had to go. I was at another position for four years, and they loved me and I would probably still be there today -- save for the fact that it was at a bank, and the economy took a nosedive. As part of the cost-cutting methods, HR came to my department and told them, "you currently have two long-term temps here. Make one go away." The other temp was the assistant to an MD who'd been notoriously difficult to find someone for, so....I was the only logical choice to make go away. Even though the business manager of my department begged and pleaded and tried all sorts of negotiating gymnastics to figure out some way to keep me.

Sometimes it is just not within your control. However, I think the fact that you were talking to people at your assignment about health things after only a month may not have helped -- talk to your agency about that kind of stuff unless you've been at your assignment a good long while.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:54 AM on September 18, 2009

The temp agency knows. If they don't, they have a pretty bad sales team. The person who handles the corporate account (the company in which you were placed) has every financial incentive to make sure the client is happy and having their needs met. If someone does not work out, or an arrangement is terminated, it only makes sense that the sales person would follow up, to find out what happened, to offer other temp people if the need still exists, and to generally maintain a happy relationship with the client.

The person you work with is not necessarily the person handling the corporate account. Many agencies split these responsibilities, so that some people work with clients (corporations) and others work with the people who want to work for the clients. It's very likely this had nothing to do with you in particular, and nothing to do with your insurance or the ergonomics request. If you really want to know, ask to speak with the person who handles the company's account.
posted by Houstonian at 7:59 AM on September 18, 2009

To clarify - the health insurance was through your temp agency, right? Not through the company? So that might have caused an increase in the temp fee, but that doesn't mean the company was providing the health insurance?
posted by muddgirl at 8:01 AM on September 18, 2009

They may have simply exhausted their budget.

You won't ever get a clear answer on this. Let it go.
posted by 26.2 at 8:57 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

You may have just worked yourself out of a job, and this is a coincidence. I was once brought on to a company for a gig that was supposed to last 4 months. I would be assisting them cover vacation time (in this 4-person division, each needed to take a week, and the supervisor, 2), and to catch up on a backlog of work. By the middle of the 3rd month, the backlog was gone, I found myself having to do busywork to not look completely slacky, and I was gone at the end of the month, as they just had no reason to keep me.

Fortunately, the temp agency was impressed and found me another gig within 2 weeks, but I was still kind of shocked.
posted by explosion at 9:11 AM on September 18, 2009

The real key here is if the temp agency can find you more work quickly, or if they start blowing you off. If they can find you work, its probably a budget thing. If they start blowing you off, I'd be more suspicious.

If the agency starts blowing you off, I'd suggest that you call your supervisor at the corporation and simply ask if s/he would be willing to act as a professional reference. That conversation could tell you a lot.
posted by anastasiav at 9:38 AM on September 18, 2009

Nthing the upper level bean counting. GE was notorious for this, and I was a victim of it in the 90s - the entire I.T. department in my division, including a senior Exchange guru, was let go when someone higher up on the totem pole hit the "Reset all Temps" button. Anyone will more than one year's history was let go, and new people hired to replace them. It went so far as to affect assistants in other departments who were loved, and had seven years under V.I.P.s - but that's how Uncle Jack operated in those days.
posted by GJSchaller at 9:46 AM on September 18, 2009

Don't contact the corp with questions, but keep an eye out for any job postings and apply directly. It's quite likely that you were likely let go for BS reasons to do with healthcare or temp overheads or whatever, in which case the people who worked with you would pick you with no hesitation from a lineup of interviewees.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:54 AM on September 18, 2009

Call a friend at former company and see if they have any insight. I would not call the boss.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:54 AM on September 18, 2009

Did your billing rate to the company increase when your temp agency started offering you health insurance, by any chance?
posted by jacquilynne at 11:46 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't worry about it because you'll never know and it could be anything. This kind of thing happens to temps *all the time*. Approval for temp workers gets cut for budgetary reasons. Work is needed to give to regular employees so the temps get cut. Someone doesn't like the way one of the temps looks/smells/eats their lunches. It could theoretically have to do with your seeking ergonomic accommodations; it happens, but it's not especially likely. If you took up more than an hour or so of someone else's time getting that settled, I'd say it might become more probable, but if it was just one consultation and a few adjustments, I wouldn't worry about it.

I'd say the health insurance is the least likely suspect. Chances are incredibly good that your agency isn't subsidizing it at all. They're just allowing you to join a group plan. If it was anything like what was offered through the agencies I worked with, it's probably not even an especially good group plan.

Let it go, move on. It happens.

When your agency asks if you know why it happened, you tell them that so far as you are aware the company's needs changed and nobody had any complaints about you, but if they had any feedback for you you'll be happy to hear it.
posted by larkspur at 12:21 PM on September 18, 2009

Temps are expensive to engage and cheap to let go (no severance, vacation accrual payoff, or unemployment insurance). A firm that's close to facing/trying to avoid laying off staff has macroincentives to rid themselves of temps first that will trump the microincentives of keeping a particular temp, even if s/he is a great fit to an important need.

I doubt that your temp agency orchestrated your departure from the firm because you applied for their health insurance benefit. A long-term, full-time engagement is gold for your agency, and your insolent pursuit of a health benefit, while resented, would have been arithmetically overwhelmed by their eagerness to continue to exploit you and the firm for their fees.

Work sucks, and American health insurance sucks.
posted by gum at 5:32 PM on September 18, 2009

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