Was I let-go legally?
October 27, 2009 12:49 PM   Subscribe

I was 'let go' from my job last week, but I'm not sure it was entirely legal. YANML, but please lend me your ear... (warning, long)

I work at a medium sized non-profit. I started temping there last winter, and was made perm in April.

Things had been going alright; I can’t say that I loved the job or the people outside of my small regional office, or even the cause we were fighting for. But a job’s a job, especially right now. Decent pay and benefits.

There are two reasons I could have been let go. One was pretty much confirmed for me by my main boss – that a higher-up, in a different department, who has senior management’s ear, had decided that my manager and I needed to go. Now this person isn't in our department, much less works with our department. I’m still scratching my head over this one. He is a pretty nasty person, with a bad reputation, but I’ve never had to work with him. He comes into the office every once in awhile, but I’ve always been polite and professional with him.

The smaller reason is thus: a lot of the people I immediately work with, my counterparts in other regional offices are not the most ‘competent’ at their jobs. I’m trying to put this as nicely as possible – these people should not be given any professional responsibilities. My manager and I, we are constantly being the ‘odd men out’ of the department. Thrown ‘under the bus’ quite often, and chided for having proof that we didn’t “forget to send in requests” or “late reports”. But again, I’ve always been polite and professional with all of them, never a nasty email and lots of friendly overtones, for as much as I’ve questioned their employment, there is nothing I could have done that would stop the ‘blame game’.

So I was ‘let go’. Manger is has a ‘stay of execution’ to finish a large project but is soon to be gone. Keep in mind, I’ve never been written up, never given a warning – nothing. I knew the other department head didn’t like me, but didn’t believe I fell under his jurisdiction.

I was never given any paperwork, never signed a termination form, and wasn’t even provided with unemployment paperwork. In California, the UI Code, Section 1089 requires employers to provide the booklet. I emailed when I got home, asking for this, and was told:
”The state determines the unemployment and you can access online to file. Put 'termination' and on my end I will report that you 'worked to best of abilities' but not a good fit. That should qualify you. “

Ok so fine, I file unemployment. All the while wondering what is really going on. Next day, get an email from my main boss:
”COMPANY is willing to put a letter of voluntary resignation from you in your personnel file at HQ. For unemployment purposes, we will list “termination – worked to best of abilities, but not a good fit with position” but on your file we will list it as a voluntary resignation, that way if anyone calls HQ for a recommendation, they will be able to read directly from your file that you resigned and are eligible as a rehire.”

Obviously this seems a little strange to me – flimsy reasons for being fired, but hey, I’m in CA and we’re an ‘at will’ state. But asking me to pretend that I quit – am I putting my hand in the bear trap disguised as a cookie jar?

The question: is this legit? Is it worth fighting? Should I report the employer for not providing the unemployment booklet? Do I pretend that I quit? I already have a handful of people who will give me recommendations, so if I burn a bridge here, it wouldn't really harm me.

Thanks in advance. Questions can be mailed to anonisanona at gmail dot com
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (33 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
flimsy reasons for being fired, but hey, I’m in CA and we’re an ‘at will’ state

Right, which means they don't need any reason at all to terminate your employment. Doesn't really sound like there's much of anything worth fighting over here. If you have enough recommendations without this place, don't take them up on their offer to lie in your file, don't report them, don't pretend you quit, and don't look back. There's nothing to gain.
posted by dersins at 12:55 PM on October 27, 2009


Yeah, it sucks when people pull this crap but it is "at will" so if you weren't discriminated against as member of a protected class I don't see any legal recourse. (IANAL).

DO NOT NOT NOT allow them to put a resignation letter anywhere. DO NOT do or say anything to imply you resigned. It sounds like they are trying to screw you on unemployment. Ask for a piece of paper with the "not a good fit" termination reason on it.
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:55 PM on October 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


It sounds to me like they're trying to help you out. You have to be terminated to obtain unemployment benefits, but they are willing to put a letter in your file saying that you resigned (rather than were terminated) so that if a potential employer calls for a reference they don't hear that you were fired. If you don't want them to do that, then ask them not to, but I don't know why you wouldn't.
posted by amro at 12:56 PM on October 27, 2009


Am I putting my hand in the bear trap disguised as a cookie jar?

Yes. They want you to do something. Why? It's not entirely clear - maybe it is to screw you out of unemployment, maybe it is something else. It's of no benefit to you, especially since you have recommendations lined up already.

File for unemployment, tell the unemployment office that you didn't get the booklet. Depending on how you feel about your former employers, you may want to tell the unemployment officials about the proposed arrangement as well. I have a feeling they will not be amused.
posted by mikepop at 12:56 PM on October 27, 2009 [6 favorites]


I would be aware of the fact that if voluntary resignation is put on your file - you will likely not qualify for unemployment benefit that would be available to you if you were terminated (except for gross incompetence, or illegal action). I would be careful about agreeing to anything in the light that they have advised of what "should qualify you".

Unemployment benefits directly affects the employer in terms of 'compensation' they pay the state for this - it is in the employer's benefit that you do not qualify for this.
posted by clarkie666 at 1:02 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sounds like they are trying to help you, but if you don't want the letter in your file then simply tell them that won't be necessary.
posted by zeoslap at 1:02 PM on October 27, 2009


"At will" states don't require any notice from anyone to fire you. It's usually recommended you give two weeks' notice before you fire your employer, because you will need them for a job reference. But that is not a situation where the same courtesy can be expected when they want you gone.

I would NEVER ask for them to put a resignation letter in my file, because if they decide to contest your claim for unemployment benefits, it is that file which will be brought into any hearing about that.

If you can get them to give assurances that anyone who would be giving references will provide you with a good one, either over the phone or in a letter, that should be enough. I don't know of any employer that I've ever worked for who actually shared an employee file with another company. It was always a phone call or letter for reference.
posted by hippybear at 1:04 PM on October 27, 2009


For unemployment purposes, we will list “termination – worked to best of abilities, but not a good fit with position” but on your file we will list it as a voluntary resignation, that way if anyone calls HQ for a recommendation, they will be able to read directly from your file that you resigned and are eligible as a rehire.

Common. That is exactly what you want a previous employer to say when called as a reference, after all. If they are serious, this is actually a rather nice thing for them to do for you. They could just say "She was fired." Would you prefer that?!

If I read your question right, they're not asking you to pretend anything: they're telling you what they will say in future if asked. It doesn't change your moves: you file for unemployment as "terminated", as above, which is a "good" reason if you want to be benefits-eligible. Then, when you apply for a new job elsewhere in future, it's up to you to explain your reasons for leaving (if you're even asked) case by case. If you want to say "I was fired for [insert drama reasons]" you can do that. If you want to say "I didn't fit in, so I resigned" you can.

Either way, your old employer sounds like they will back you up. That's what that e-mail told you they would do.

As long as they're not asking you to sign anything claiming you quit, or the unemployment folks call and are TOLD that you quit... you're fine here.

I think you are in the best possible position here, all things considered, and I wouldn't advise making big noises until you secure another job. If then.
posted by rokusan at 1:13 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Depending on how you feel about your former employers, you may want to tell the unemployment officials about the proposed arrangement as well. I have a feeling they will not be amused.

This is burning a possible good reference for petty revenge. Not recommended.
posted by rokusan at 1:14 PM on October 27, 2009


because if they decide to contest your claim for unemployment benefits, it is that file which will be brought into any hearing about that.

But notice that the OP has an e-mail from her old boss in which the employer offers this deal. That means if the letter is ever entered in any legal proceeding to harm the OP (whether to contest unemployment or any other), then that e-mail can also be entered, and it completely explains the reason that "resignation" might be on file.

They handed her a kindness after a lame firing, and I think it should be accepted as that. Yes, the firing was lame, but that's what at-will employment always leads to: you can be canned at any time. And you were. Nothing wrong there.

They're not trying to screw you. They would never have sent that e-mail if they were.
posted by rokusan at 1:18 PM on October 27, 2009


Sounds like they are trying to help you

Another vote for this. Some future potential job will ask you if you've ever been fired. If you file a letter of resignation, you can say no, you technically resigned. If you say yes, that may be viewed as a red flag by some employers (even if you explain that it was somewhere between an economic decision and a "bad personality fit" and was not performance related).
posted by rkent at 1:18 PM on October 27, 2009


as others have said, "at will" states do not require a reason (discriminatory ones not withstanding) to fire you.

i also advise you to NOT allow them to put a resignation letter in your file bc that will be used to contest your claim for unemployment benefits—which is what it sounds like to me they are trying to do because it isn't as if you were terminated for any egregious reason. look, in the current economic climate, losing your job isn't really going to hurt you, particularly if you will already have positive references and the reason given was “termination – worked to best of abilities, but not a good fit with position.” also, i believe that if a potential employer calls your former employer's HR office, the former employer can not say much beyond confirming that you did work with them, the dates for which you were employed by them, and that you were let go. in your interview with a potential employer you can work in the reason why ("not a good fit with the company") if you think that will help your cause.
posted by violetk at 1:19 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


If they're willing to bend the truth, why aren't they willing to bend the truth to the extent of putting in your file that the position was eliminated, for example, which would leave you eligible for unemployment *and* let them claim that you would be eligible for re-hire by that company in the future?

That is, IMO, the fishy bit. They want to bend it supposedly for your benefit, but they want you to put it in writing that you resigned, which would make you ineligible for unemployment. You'd have an email. They'd have a letter signed by you that you would have to acknowledge was authentic. I cannot help but think they'd be in a better position if it came to that.

If they're willing to bend things, ask them to bend it so that you don't have to resign. There are reasons they could have let you go that would not impact rehire. They just need to come up with one of those. If HQ can't do that, what makes the person you're talking to think that HQ isn't going to try to object to the unemployment claim when their file says you resigned? Yeah, I'm untrusting, but I don't see it ending well.
posted by larkspur at 1:34 PM on October 27, 2009


Surely as soon as anonymous agrees to the company putting a resignation letter on file the company can then claim that anon agrees with the resignation itself? Otherwise why agree to the letter? Yeah anon has an email outlining the scheme, but there's still a difference between the company unilaterally putting stuff on their file and them agreeing to what's written. I'd stay well away from this deceit, it's too easy to twist it into screwing anon out of their unemployment benefits.

Basically what larkspur is saying here: "They'd have a letter signed by you that you would have to acknowledge was authentic."
posted by shelleycat at 1:49 PM on October 27, 2009


Another vote for this. Some future potential job will ask you if you've ever been fired. If you file a letter of resignation, you can say no, you technically resigned. If you say yes, that may be viewed as a red flag by some employers

Lies just beget more lies. Anon would have to come up with reasons why he or she resigned (especially in such a bad economy), and it will look pretty sketchy if s/he isn't hired right away and spends a lot of time job searching. Who wouldn't wonder "this person has no real reasons for resigning from a decent job. What's up with that? Are they going to resign from this job?"

Whereas lots of people are getting laid off or fired in this environment, and that's an understandable situation.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:55 PM on October 27, 2009


I don't like the sound of it - not your lawyer, and have never been an unemployment lawyer - why do they suddenly want to help you, and why does that help involve you putting in writing that you resigned?

I wouldn't send a letter, I would just write back something like, "Thanks for reaching out - I appreciate Company's willingness to provide me with a favorable recommendation should a future employer call for one." If they keep asking for a letter, keep evading, nicely.

I see a lot of downsides here, mostly related to your unemployment claim, and I think shellycat is right that there's too much room for this to negatively affect your unemployment benefits. Besides which, you will have a resume gap here, and it's a lot better (to my ears) to say you got terminated because the position wasn't a good fit, and here's why (and spin the positives, then say how the position you want to get *is* a good fit) than to say you resigned and then went on unemployment/sabbatical/what exactly, and what about the job was so bad that you didn't just stay until you found another?
posted by KAS at 2:00 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nthing the 'Absolutely Not' crowd. Their explanation doesn't hold water with me, and I've seen too many companies try and play games with the UI system over the years.

FWIW, many large companies don't even allow their employees to say anything about former employees, good or bad - just to confirm the employment period & nothing more - it's too much of a liability concern if some random employee starts saying something libelous/slanderous.
posted by swngnmonk at 2:43 PM on October 27, 2009


They are trying to do you a favor. By giving them the letter of resignation you can reapply to other jobs in the company. I agree, this sounds a bit far fetched, but I think after this point you are free to spin whatever story you are comfortable with when interviewing elsewhere. I don't think this is a trick, I think it's a genuine attempt to help you. End on good terms. Keep in touch with your friend as a reference.
posted by xammerboy at 2:44 PM on October 27, 2009


You're not eligible for unemployment if you resigned. I would decline the offer and ask to be listed as fired. Why would future employers call your former employer's HR anyway? Most employers just call the references you give... and hopefully you give references of people like the boss who you worked closely with, who can say great things about you.

When you go to future employers, just tell them you were laid off. Like almost everyone else in this economy. No lies. No problem.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 2:45 PM on October 27, 2009


If they're willing to bend the truth, why aren't they willing to bend the truth to the extent of putting in your file that the position was eliminated, for example, which would leave you eligible for unemployment *and* let them claim that you would be eligible for re-hire by that company in the future?

Exactly what I was thinking. Something isn't right here, and I would be terribly suspicious of anything that had the potential to interfere with my receiving unemployment benefits. I don't like the sound of this at all.
posted by anderjen at 2:54 PM on October 27, 2009


Don't take the resignation letter! The amount they get charged for unemployment insurance is related to the number of former employees that took the benefit. If you resigned, you will not be eligible for unemployment, and they won't have their rates raised. If you take the benefit, they will get charged more. They are trying to help themselves and not you.
posted by procrastination at 3:06 PM on October 27, 2009


They're trying to screw you. Being let go in the economy is not really a black mark against you.
posted by spaltavian at 3:23 PM on October 27, 2009


This is the opposite of your situation, but I briefly worked for a non-profit, and I resigned because I was a poor fit with the culture and didn't get on with my immediate supervisor. Although they had a perfectly legitimate letter of resignation from me, the HR department informed me that they would not contest it if I chose to file an unemployment claim. I found another job right away and didn't need to file for unemployment, but I assumed they had made the offer because my immediate supervisor had a well-documented record of tormenting her employees, and also because they were ridiculously wealthy and could afford it.
posted by timeo danaos at 3:34 PM on October 27, 2009


Do not respond to them via email or otherwise until you consult (even by telephone) with an attorney in your area.

I'm sure there is an angle to all this. You may as well find out what it is.

Among other things, an attorney might be able to negotiate a better severance package or a meaningful extension of your benefits if you were fired inappropriately (which seems to be the case.)

You don't want to work with these folks again, but you also don't want the short end of the stick. Don't take the advice of anyone on MetaFilter, DO check with an attorney and have a free consultation before/if/when you respond to this email you received.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 4:36 PM on October 27, 2009


Your employer may also be trying to avoid paying 65% of your COBRA insurance premiums for same reasons as unemployment.
posted by tfmm at 4:47 PM on October 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Just another voice chiming in to say that you should politely refuse this offer because HR records are used for a lot of things, including verification of unemployment benefits eligibility, and you don't want to jeopardize any potential assistance you might need. Sure, they could be trying to do something nice for you, but as mentioned above, a willingness to describe you as laid off would be just as nice, and would not risk any sort of unemployment eligibility.

If you are concerned about future references, it sounds like you have a good relationship with your former manager and s/he would probably be willing to say your job performance was great, and your position was eliminated due to restructuring (or something along those lines). It won't matter if your manager is no longer with this company. People move on for a variety for reasons, especially in this economic climate.

Lastly, as tempting as it may be, I wouldn't try pursuing any sort of action or reporting any possible attempts at fraud. Being in an "at will" state means it's likely there won't be much benefit, and it could easily wind up being detrimental. Sorry this happened to you, and good luck!
posted by katemcd at 5:57 PM on October 27, 2009


I would not sign a paper that stated something that wasn't true. Why do it? You didn't resign. You were let go. A future employer will want to know the dates of your employment, a description of your job or a job title, and if you were fired. You weren't fired, and whether you were let go or whether you resigned really won't matter to a future employer.

So although I can't identify the company's angle here, it does sound off. If you sign paperwork retroactively, taking part in that untruth, it'll just be something you have to worry about later. Right now, you are looking for work and you trade on your good name and integrity, so signing a lie doesn't help and might muck things up.

(I would ask your former manager there if he can provide you with a "personal reference" -- that is, he is not speaking officially as a company employee. Better still, ask him for a letter of recommendation.)
posted by Houstonian at 6:39 PM on October 27, 2009


I really hate the way I worded my answer. Just in case anyone thought I was saying the OP had an "angle to work" in all this, that's not what I meant!

Like Houstanian, I agree the email sounds "off." There must be some tangible benefit to former employer if OP "agrees" they resigned, or else why make the offer? This is the "angle" I was referring to. I encourage the OP to find out what their former employer's motivations are, especially as it may provide some insight or benefit.

Further, it's bad advice to encourage anyone to sign a legal document without getting proper legal advice. Obviously!
posted by jbenben at 7:02 PM on October 27, 2009


Sounds fishy to me, and this exact thing happened to me this summer. Do not agree to that letter and don't sign it! Resigning will prevent you from getting unemployment, and will make it look like you were the one with the problem, not them. Negotiate for "let go due to bad fit, despite good work done" or whatever, and insist that a neutral reference from your employer *making no mention of the layoff* be a part of your condition of separation from the non-profit. That way, they can't sneak that bit in if they're called for a reference.

They will scoff at you for doing this, and pretend like you're crazy, but don't listen to them. Stand your ground.
posted by LN at 7:59 PM on October 27, 2009


Despite all the alarmism in this thread, I think the resignation letter/layoff is actually fairly common practice and not always a bad thing. I know several people whose employers did this, and they were all able to collect unemployment while they looked for work.

The "resigned" note in the personnel file means that when you next go looking for work you can say that you left because it was not a good fit, not that you were fired. Many employers view this as a courtesy, because getting fired is a blemish on your record.

I'm not a lawyer, but I'm not really freaked out by this plan, either.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:24 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


The OP didn't say anything about being asked to sign a letter. I would be much more wary if they asked you to lie about it actively.

All the original questions says is that they'll put a note in her file. Let them.
posted by rokusan at 5:35 AM on October 28, 2009


Your employer may also be trying to avoid paying 65% of your COBRA insurance premiums for same reasons as unemployment.

Under the COBRA subsidy contained in ARRA, the employer doesn't pay the 65%. The employer fronts the money for the premium and gets a tax credit for it. The federal government pays the 65%.
posted by Pax at 6:28 AM on October 28, 2009


They, the ex-employer who fired employee want the now ex-employee to believe they are doing a favor. The company is looking out for the company, not the ex-employee. The question is why? They may be afraid you do have a case and file with the EEOC. They are attempting to "make nice" in my opinion.
I do not see any good reason to want this company for a reference. Certainly, you want to include your time there on resume but it is illegal for HR to say how you separated from company. They are only to give dates of employment and salary. Most companies are very adherent to employee disclosure because it is in their best interests.

I "resigned voluntarily" from my last employer based on the letter that was left on my patio from H.R. My situation was a little different. I had won attendance award, had no previous reviews that were negative in any way from manager, and my sales were in the top 20% at the time I was fired without cause. I live in an "at will" state, hired by a corporation in another state. I was ill, and with drs note that prescribed a short leave, I forwarded to a manager who was filling in for my manager of 3.5 years who was also fired a month prior.

Instead of directing me to Human Resources, or giving me any info, a letter was sent DHL and I was to sign for it. The DHL delivery person forged signature and lied in reporting letter was in fact delivered to me personally. By the time letter was discovered, the contents were moot. I naively, or perhaps understandably believed the letter from H.R. was a packet I needed to take leave if 2 weeks was more than what I had left in vacation/sick days. It was a letter demanding I contact manager fill in or HR by 530EST the day prior, or they must assume I have terminated employment, or voluntarily resigned.

I called and left message immediately with HR, and explained why I did not call when directed. I received a message back that never acknowledged the non-signature letter drop with no door tag to make me aware of letter, and never acknowledged my DRs note and letter for leave sent to manager fill in. Manager fill in calls and says he heard I was no longer with company. Letter stated he had reported I was not in contact with him, and he reported me to HR. He claims he knows nothing about who enacted the decisions, etc...

When I filed for unemployment benefits, I said I was terminated, and did not voluntarily leave, but was fired subsequent to medical request for leave. That made my benefits put on hold because if I was sick, I was not available to work.

I find out 2 weeks later, my illness was more than what was thought. I was pregnant. Long story short, I was screwed over by HR, manager fill in and the company they work for. The manager fill lied. HR ignored. And it was the most stressful situation I have ever been confronted with.

If I wasn't so emotionally distraught I would have sought out legal advice. I did attempt, and got an immediate response from atty who said he could help me. But, I was admittedly a wreck, and never followed up because I didn't think his firm called me back. After checking my full mailbox, I realized I did get a call back. I was not in my right mind damnit. Usually I am a fighter for what I believe is just, but I was sick.

At the time, all I could bring myself to do was eat and sleep and hope my unborn child was healthy as I awaited cOBRA to approve my application. But, I was not denied unemployment benefits. The investigators with the UC stated company said I was eligible. A favor to an ex-employee who resigned voluntarily? I think not...they were hoping to decrease their potential liability if I were to file with EEOC and sue them under a lawful claim.

They are not worried about you, except in that you may file against them. You are a potential liability. If you have the energy and the motivation I would seek advice on the matter. Look out for yourself, and do not think any employer is going to do so, especially after they just fired you! Good luck!
posted by iGrasshopper at 1:30 PM on November 3, 2009


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