Can you get in trouble for not signing a final warning letter? help need asap.
February 16, 2010 11:46 PM   Subscribe

Tales of minimum wage intrigue: My boyfriend (let's call him Allen) got a "final warning" letter from his small business customer service job, after very little verbal warnings at all. It is most likely due to his refusal to come in on two of his days off in the last week (once he was sick, and the second time he had plans). He was never told that he is on-call. His co-worker/managerial lapdog has told him that his manager is going to fire him anyway. Should he sign the letter? Do we have a leg to stand on at all? Details of shittiness/small business Machiavellian politics inside.

His job has been shady in the past. One of his co-workers was denied overtime pay because they "couldn't afford it" (she didn't complain). They call him in on his days off at least several times a month because they are under staffed, and employees regularly have to come in sick. If he ever heard a complaint it was via gossip; his superior (who wrote the letter) talks to him maybe about twice a month over minor mishaps. He has worked there for over two years, with no major complaints. His phone died on one his days off and he woke up to a harassing voicemail of his co-worker cursing him out because they thought he was ignoring him (we saved the voicemail).

The letter his manager wrote said that she had talked to him about his performance over the past few months (she hasn't) about four main issues: Not filling in, mistakes (human error more than carelessness), not opening in time (he has), and not being a "team player" (the phrase employers use when you stick up for yourself). His customers love him and have not complained. Apparently his manager has already started interviewing replacements, and I think she just wants him to sign the paper so he can fire him at the slightest infraction and deny him unemployment. Should he refuse to sign it? What could the repercussions be if he doesn't? Allen and his manager are having a meeting about this tomorrow, any advice about what he should say would be appreciated (I told him to say the letter is pending "legal review", which might be going a little far but it seems good to cover his bases). I know YANML.

This is in Oregon, at a place that was recently on the front page of digg and reddit as an example or altruism at the workplace. If he actually does get fired maybe I'll link to it :) (apologies if I came off a little spiteful but I hate seeing people being taken advantage of and am writing this out of rage)
posted by Betty_effn_White to Work & Money (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Your rage is justified and not productive.

Since it is late on the west coast, and you are not likely to get direct experience answers at this hour...

Your BF should take a copy of their bs letter and say he's having a lawyer look it over.

Get one. It shouldn't cost more than $200 for an opinion - ask friends. You might get off way cheaper.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 12:47 AM on February 17, 2010

Ok. Here goes.

Two years working and faced with warning letters. First things first, this is not going to end well. No matter what the company has done or the lack of management, in this type of situation, the best thing to do is prepare to get out. And fast!

Your boyfriend will need a reference. Usually in business, especially at this level, cards on the table is the best way forward. What I suggest, with the usual "I am not your _____" tags, is to schedule a meeting with said manager with the letter in hand unsigned. Look towards finding a way out.

He will be managed out. Certainly it's shoddy and elementary school style probably by someone who has less competence than a character from The Office based on your statements.

Use confrontation combined with a focus on outcome. He (your boyfriend) needs to ask questions directly like "How do you plan to evaluate my performance against these complaints in the future?" and "What specific things do I need to do to ensure my employment is without problems?". My guess is there will be the standard catch alls given in your askme. That means its time to dig straight into the manager and ask "Do you want me out of the organisation?". There is then some leverage to leave the relationship intact and ensure a good reference for what will be a better job anyway.

His current profession has lots of opportunities, so plan for the future in a positive way rather than wasting time playing a game where the outcome is already prescribed.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 1:37 AM on February 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: @jbenben rage got this posted at least. I need to look up low-cost legal options. We might not be able to afford justice :/

@funmonkey: He's pretty much given up on a reference at this point. His manager is one of those managers who took a minimum wage mcjob and turn it into her creepy little empire. She is not one of those good managers that focuses on the needs of her employees, but how to get the most out of them while spending the least on them that she can (did I mention she won't turn on the heat on saturdays at one of the stores?). He has told his coworkers in the past that she hates him. He has one co-worker that he could probably get a reference out of.

We're not sure if pushing for unemployment is best or if he should cling to it until he gets a new job. The unemployment rate in our city is terrifying and people (like his coworkers) are letting themselves be pushed around out of fear.
posted by Betty_effn_White at 2:10 AM on February 17, 2010

Response by poster: ach, I mean his manager has told Allen's coworkers that she hates him.
posted by Betty_effn_White at 2:21 AM on February 17, 2010

Hi again. No reference or mutual way out = starts looking for new job quick.

I repeat advice again, plan to get out. Put a positive spin on it and get boyfriend to start sending out applciations or applying with the recruiting agencies.

Your time, and his by the way, isn't worth the time for a shitty place to be. Seriously, get him the fuck out of there and move ahead. The drama isn't worth it. A lot of people have been in the same situations and generally feel a hell of a lot better after getting rid of the bullshit involved.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 2:35 AM on February 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

He's pretty much given up on a reference at this point
Then he's got almost nothing to lose by telling them they can have their job back in the filthiest, most offensive language he knows.

I'll second funmonkey's last comment; telling bad employers to shove it is one of the rare privileges of working life. The right to tell a boss to fuck themselves isn't to be given up lightly.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 2:47 AM on February 17, 2010 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Wouldn't quitting with flourish, however satisfying, negate unemployment benefits?
posted by Betty_effn_White at 4:25 AM on February 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, I saw a good friend of mine get fired in a similar situation. Was accused of dropping cigarette ash down the back of a PC - we were working in a call centre at the time with no tools to actually open said PC, but whateverTF.

He was very cool about it.
Our harpy of a manager started chewing him out in front of whoever was around. He put a hand up and said 'wait, wait, aren't you going to kiss me first?'

she looked stunned before giving her WTF face and managed to sputter 'what are you talking about?'

His reply: 'Generally you start with foreplay before you try and fuck someone. Don't bother firing me. I quit'.

She was a fucking piece of work. Offered a team leader 50K to marry her German girlfriend she she could stay in the country.

I quit not long after. I heard 2 months after that she was fired and the entire office cheered as she packed up her desk.

Which is to say, life is too fucking short to put up with douchebags. Get him the hell out asap. It is easier to find a job if you already have a job, but if the stress of not having a job and looking for work is less than the stress of putting up with an evil queen of the harpies, then you shouldn't have to think too hard about which choice to make.
posted by CardinalRichelieuHandPuppet at 5:03 AM on February 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I never thought I would write a dear betty letter, but here it goes.

Dear Betty,

To answer your question regarding unemployment benefits, the most prudent thing to do is to force being let go. Oregon and the rest of the states really find it offensive to resign rather than being fired. Hence, force the issue and get a result.


The State of Oregon
posted by Funmonkey1 at 5:06 AM on February 17, 2010

IANYL, or an Oregon lawyer, but in general, if an employee is fired "for cause," then the company can generally get out of paying unemployment. It sounds like this is what your boyfriend's manager is trying to arrange.

But the onus is generally on the employer to show that, and some kind of paper trail is going to be helpful here. That's why she wants him to sign the letter. But unless he can show a paper trail of his own... well, this could get messy.

Which means he probably needs proper legal counsel, because whether or not he's got a shot at getting out of this with anything--and how to make that happen--isn't something I'm going to be able to tell you.

I'd call Legal Aid Services of Oregon make an appointment.
posted by valkyryn at 5:46 AM on February 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

The letter his manager wrote said that she had talked to him about his performance over the past few months (she hasn't), ... not opening in time (he has)

This should be obvious, but I'm throwing it out there because nobody has addressed it directly: he absolutely should not sign a letter that makes false claims. Doing so simply strengthens his employer's position, and undermines his own future credibility.
posted by jon1270 at 6:07 AM on February 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

Signing the letter generally just acknowledges that the employee received it, not that he agrees with the claims made within. Our counseling letters state this explicitly. He can feel free to write what specific claims of fact he disagrees with on the end of the letter before signing it if it makes him feel better. In general, refusing to sign the letter accomplishes nothing and signing it does not confer any particular advantage on the employer, unless he plans to lie and deny that he ever saw the letter and probably not even then.
posted by Lame_username at 6:57 AM on February 17, 2010

Lame_username, that may or may not be true depending on how the document is drafted. Without seeing it, it is impossible to know whether or not your advice is correct.
posted by valkyryn at 7:06 AM on February 17, 2010

Your boyfriend should take a look at his personnel file - which is where that signed letter would go - to see if there is documentation of his other "infractions." I'm willing to bet, if your description is accurate, that there aren't any.

Signing the letter just indicates that he received it and read it. He can include a rebuttal to it in his personnel file if he wishes. If the letter includes language that indicates that he admits to wrongdoing, I wouldn't sign where it says to sign. I would actually write in, "I disagree with the summation of my work in this document. Here is what happened..." and then sign below that, after my own summation.

It is generally best to get fired rather than quit in order to receive unemployment, but in some states, you can get unemployment even if you quit if your resignation falls under "constructive dismissal" - that is, your employers made it so miserable for you to stay that they forced you to quit. Check with your state's EEOC to determine whether this applies to you in Oregon.

In response to your main question - "Can you get in trouble for not signing a final warning letter?" - the answer is yes, sort of. Getting in trouble is besides the point. Oregon is an at-will state, which means your job can actually fire you for anything they want, as long as it does not violate your rights. Your question doesn't indicate that his rights have been violated. If he is in a protected class, that may be different, and you should certainly contact a lawyer in that case.
posted by juniperesque at 8:54 AM on February 17, 2010

Response by poster: He had a meeting with his manager and she now claims that being on-call is part of the job. He's willing to fill in when he can, but this is not a realistic outcome as he has other responsibilities outside of work (and another job). Essentially, they want him to work 20 hours a week, but be on call for 6 days. This isn't going to work for him, but when he said as much she said she could always find someone else who could do it. He said he'd think about it, and he'd rather be unemployed than forced into being on-call like that, but he's worried that if he turns her down that will be considered "quitting," so he won't get unemployment. So can she just change his responsibilities to include being on-call like that?

Furthermore, she outright admitted that his attitude wasn't the problem and that she had only suspected him of not opening on time. So all the final warning letter was about was for not filling in (which he'd never agreed to do, nor was warned about), and common human error. After admitting that much of the notice was "poorly phrased" she still urged him to sign. He refused. She said okay, but that she'd be making a list of every slip-up he makes.

He's planning to look for another part-time job, but in the meantime he's not sure what to do, as he's worried he'll just keep getting called in on his days off (which has happened 5 times in the last month) and if he's ever not available, he'll get written up again and have no excuse not to sign it. Any advice?
posted by Betty_effn_White at 4:27 PM on February 18, 2010

Yeah. Get another job.

That's about all there is to it. At-will employment means that employers can require anything which doesn't violate labor laws, and I can't see how anything here does that. It's shady and unfair, certainly, but it all appears to be perfectly legal.

We're in a bad employment market. This lets employers take stronger positions on the terms of employment than they'd otherwise be able to take. It sucks, but I don't see any way around it. This is partly what unions are for, but they have their own set of problems.

But this does seem to be a situation where if he doesn't like it, he can go somewhere else.
posted by valkyryn at 6:21 AM on February 19, 2010

Get another job. I quit my terrible job about six months ago and despite being broke since then it was totally worth it. I'm even getting unemployment, since it was "with cause" (you may also want to look up "constructive dismissal"). But when a manager is poisoned against you, there's no way to win AND stay there.
posted by jtron at 3:28 PM on March 22, 2010

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