Punished for not taking a promotion?
July 9, 2011 6:33 PM   Subscribe

I was offered a promotion, but declined it. Now I think I'm being retaliated against. Is this illegal?

YANML, but my situation is as follows:

I was offered a promotion at work that would ultimately pay less than my current job due to a number of bonus factors and increased driving times. I am currently an assistant manager; they were offering me a manager position. When I declined due to these costs, my district manager was furious with me - she said I made a "bad decision" and that I should take the lower pay to further my career. She told me that "things are going to change". My store manager and I run the most profitable location in this district.

Within an hour, I was told that I am going to be transferred to work for a different store manager, much to the chagrin of my current manager. The new location is further away from my house and happens to be working for a toxic manager with whom I've had a slightly cold relationship.

My current manager and I have the most successful retail store in the district - separating us will only hurt my current location and does not seem to make business sense to me. Ostensibly, this was so my current manager can train employees to become future managers. But this smacks of retaliation to me.

- Am I blowing this up in my mind, or is this truly retaliation?
- If it is indeed retaliation, is this legal? (I live in Arizona, if it matters)
- What can I do about it, aside from leaving? (There's no way I can afford to leave at this point).

Thanks in advance for your help!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Where I live (not Arizona), retaliation is very much illegal, and people in my (very corporate) retail company have been fired for it.

It's worth a call to your labor board, or if you have a company "care line" where you can voice complaints to a 3rd party who are obligated to speak to your higher ups about it.

Document everything you can.
posted by katypickle at 6:44 PM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I doubt it is illegal. Generally, retaliation is illegal when it done because you complained about an illegal practice of your employer's, such as illegal discrimination. Info; more.

It sounds like your company needed you more in another store. Just because it isn't fair to you doesn't make it illegal. Based on your description, I think your best chance of salvaging the situation is through your current manager.
posted by Snerd at 6:55 PM on July 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

IANAL. It doesn't really matter if is retaliation or not. You are an at will employee, and the company has very wide latitude to run the business as it sees best. Unless you can prove they moved you because of race, sex, religion, etc, you've got nothing.
posted by COD at 6:57 PM on July 9, 2011

See if you can get a free consult with a plaintiff-side employment lawyer. If you have a union, investigate your options there, too.

I'm not an employment lawyer, so huge grain of salt here, but as I understand it, employers are prohibited from retaliating against an employee for engaging in protected conduct (think: whistleblowing, collective bargaining). My guess is that this is retaliation in a colloquial-- not legal-- sense, and that it's not illegal.

Another option is to negotiate. Talk to your current manager, ask for help. Tell the district manager or some other decision maker that you're not happy with this, and ask if there are any other options.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:04 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

In other jurisdictions, that could be construed as constructive dismissal; in yours, thanks to the wonderful world of at-will employment, you're probably SOL unless there's something contractual in the way, which I somehow doubt.
posted by holgate at 7:05 PM on July 9, 2011

You and this other person run an awesome store. Higher managers want to separate you two so more stores can benefit from your awesomeness. They think about it really hard and come up with this amazing plan to promote you so you can run some other store so maybe it can be as great as the store where you work now. You decline! They are frustrated and annoyed. They think about it for an hour, looking for a plan B for spreading the concentrated talent around to benefit more stores. You get sent to another store, in the hopes that you can improve things there, and you get the keep the assistant position you seem to love so much.

It could easily not be retaliation.
posted by thirteenkiller at 7:18 PM on July 9, 2011 [17 favorites]

I am currently an assistant manager; they were offering me a manager position.

Ostensibly, this was so my current manager can train employees to become future managers.

they offered you a manager position at another store bc they wanted you to bring to that other store the success you have helped bring to the store you currently worked at. had you accepted, this would have allowed your current manager to help train more ppl like you to become future managers to create successes at other stores. but you declined. however, they still want your current manager to help train future managers so they are still moving you to another store, only in the same capacity as your current position. perhaps they even think you might be able to help create the same kind of success at that store that you've been able to at your current store.

unless there are other things we do not know about, this doesn't really sound like retaliation to me.
posted by violetk at 7:27 PM on July 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

I second "company care hotline" or whatever they call it. You know, the number you call in for "internal loss". Call it.


Because then the COMPANY will start building a case about why its not, rather than the company take care of a horrible set of bosses you have.

Good luck!
posted by hal_c_on at 7:35 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

A fantastic manager/assistant manager team in retail almost always has to be broken up, because decent retail managers are very rare. If your manager can train an assistant to be awesome, s/he needs to train new assistants, preferably ones who will move up to managers.

If you're a terrific assistant manager, you almost certainly are more useful helping a struggling manager than supporting an already awesome manager.

It may look like punishment to you, but it's most likely a case of being really, really good at what you do.
posted by xingcat at 7:58 PM on July 9, 2011 [7 favorites]

It may or may not be retaliation, but just to be clear, your district manager gets a big, fat zero for getting angry at you for not taking her 'promotion'. Her behavior sounds unprofessional.

Personally, I think organizations make mistakes all the time trying to promote people into positions they either wouldn't like and/or wouldn't be good at - there are different strengths in being a stellar assistant manager and a stellar manager. But, it isn't actually a crappy idea to try to put a strong assistant manager with another manager, and let a strong manager mentor a new assistant manager. That doesn't mean her behavior wasn't appropriate - I'm just saying there are a number of ways to read it, although her anger beforehand makes it harder to see it solely as a good business decision.

At the very least, it is entirely understandable that you'd find it frustrating and disappointing that an enjoyable and lucrative partnership has ended abruptly and completely. While it is so, what might help you best in the long term is to consider the question about how to make your new partnership as enjoyable and lucrative as possible.
posted by anitanita at 9:22 PM on July 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm an employment lawyer--there are so many, many factors here--get a consultation from a qualified employment attorney to look this over. I'd skip over the answers, it is too fact and jurisdiction specific to say what your options are.

I suggest going to the National Employment Lawyer's Association at www.nela.org and using their lawyer finder tool for your state.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:12 PM on July 9, 2011

If you can't get satisfaction, leave. There are other jobs out there. Surely you know people who now work with other companies who are aware of your awesomeness and can help you find a job.

A friend of mine recently had a new boss come in and completely screw him over. He couldn't get it through his head it wasn't going to work out and so stuck around until they fired him in a particularly nasty way. Needless to say, he's much happier in his new position, given that it's with a company that actually gives a shit about its employees.

Thanks to his former employees good words and personal knowledge of his work ethic, he was in a position to choose between several different offers within days of being fired.
posted by wierdo at 12:09 AM on July 10, 2011

IANAL, IANYRetail Manager.

I am nthing violetk and xingcat, with an added dimension... it sounds like your DM sucks with succession planning.

What should have happened, (or, what should always happen) is that the DM should discuss with successful ASMs their plans for their career... if they plan on staying with XCompany for the long haul, where they see themselves, etc. Then, they should find out where in the district said ASM is willing to go, so they know what's going on with their people, and they don't get all sulky and pissy when, surprise! An ASM isn't willing to go to another store where they aren't comfortable.

As for the move, I can't really interpret this to be a retaliation. ASMs are shuffled really often, especially if the DM wants them to be promoted (as your DM apparently wants you to be). It could be to give a great ASM an opportunity to shine in a struggling location with a struggling SM, it could give an ASM an opportunity to bolster a weak spot, it could give a SM a chance to have his/her weak spots filled in. It could very well be that you could have a really super-petulant and childish DM that reacts to resistance with abuse, as well, or, perhaps, an opportunity to let you establish yourself in another location, get a read on the current staff, and move to replace the toxic SM with another offer of a promotion (this is actually the situation that my retail senses are picking up on, but I don't know your DM. Mine, for example, will not only throw hissy fits and hang up the phone, but will also tell 'your momma' jokes, though somehow has been the best boss, that has taught me the most, and made me into the manager I wanted to be, artistic temperament and diva behavior notwithstanding).

In case you find yourself in this position again, which you very well may, I would examine how you feel about taking on your own store at some point. Do you want to? Do you want to work out your situation so you can afford to leave the company? And if you decide you want to, and the offer comes around again, you better be prepared to negotiate the salary.
posted by mornie_alantie at 12:23 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you don't want to go the lawyer-up route or if a lawyer in your state tells you there's no case, you could try calling your DM and telling her you made a mistake and you'd like to accept the "promotion". This is assuming it wouldn't be as bad as working at the other store. I know that's just giving in to bullying but if you need to keep the job it might make things less miserable for you to play it that way.
posted by hazyjane at 1:59 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Retaliation" is a term with a specific legal definition. Most people use it to me "I did something the boss didn't like and now they're doing something I don't like to get back at me." In other contexts, that's what the term basically means.

But in the employment law context, "retaliation" means, pretty narrowly, an employer taking some adverse employment action as a result of an employee doing something the law says they have a right to do. The list of things employees have a right to is actually pretty short. Things like filing a workers' compensation claim, reporting labor law violations, reporting other illegal activities, taking FMLA time, and... I'm not an employment lawyer, so I'm sure that's not the exhaustive list, but you get the idea. If you do one of those things and your employer turns around and fires you--or docks your pay, or cuts your hours, or refuses to promote you--you've got a case for retaliation. But employers can take a dim view of all sorts of employee activities for which there is no protection.

Turning down a promotion, or even just a reassignment, is probably one of them. There are organizations that have the same kind of "up or out" mentality that the military does, i.e. if you don't move up the ranks at a reasonable clip, you're leaving the company. This is unusual, but not impermissible. But that aside, it sounds like the corporate mucky-mucks decided they wanted you at the other store. They're allowed to want that. And they're probably allowed to reassign you if you don't do what they want. They're called "managers" and "bosses" for a reason.

Definitely consult an employment law attorney licensed in your jurisdiction if you want to fight this thing, but I wouldn't be surprised if there isn't much to be done. Employers hold most of the cards these days.
posted by valkyryn at 4:32 AM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

You're being managed poorly, but if that was a crime we'd have 90% unemployment.

You're not being retaliated against. In fact, it's the opposite, you're so fantastic they really wanted you in another location to boost its numbers. They tried to entice you there and you said "no". So of course they said you made a bad decision because they have the power to move you somewhere without the carrot. Which they are now forced to do.

As mentioned above, management is very nearly required to bust apart a team if they consistently outperform the other locations. Got to spread that magic around to underperformers.

Yeah, they could have approached this in a billion better ways, mostly talking about it with you ahead of time so you knew what your options really were. (ie: Coasting along at the current job was not one of them.) But the didn't. That just makes them bad managers, not criminals.
posted by Ookseer at 9:54 AM on July 10, 2011

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