Is this normal temp agency behavior?
July 28, 2011 2:39 PM   Subscribe

Why might temp agencies have problems with headscarves and telling me why I was fired?

I was let go from what was supposed to be a permanent position. The temp director met me at work the start of the shift to tell me the assignment had ended. I expressed my confusion in an "oh! that's interesting!" way. The explanation he gave was obviously false. Later, over the phone, I politely asked why, but, again, they only said that the assignment had ended. When I asked what I should tell Unemployment about my job termination, she said the agency would be fine with me putting down “undisclosed reasons.”

A second agency does not allow hats to be worn at work. I asked if I could wear a headscarf, which she could see covers my hair, not my neck or shoulders, and was told no. The reason I wear it is health-related (side-effects of medications). This will not be an environment where it would even remotely be a safety issue. I will be letting the coordinator know that it is for health issues.

Two questions:

Is there a reason why a temp agency would not tell an employee why they were fired?

Can a workplace prohibit headscarves (being worn for health-related reasons)?

I don’t have the resources to pursue a lawyer in either case, at the moment. I am curious as to whether these are normal conditions for temps. Thank you!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (17 answers total)
I can only answer your first question: They did not tell you why you were fired to limit their liability in a lawsuit. If you are in an at-will state, they do not need to give a reason and I am sure that their policy is to avoid giving one where ever possible, just to be on the safe side.
posted by Aizkolari at 2:44 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is there a reason why a temp agency would not tell an employee why they were fired?

I worked at a temp agency for a while. The only thing I can think of is business and/or legal issues between the agency and the client (that is, the company for whom the temps work.) They're rare, but they do happen, and there's a lot of hush-hush especially if there's a legal situation.
posted by griphus at 2:46 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is there a reason why a temp agency would not tell an employee why they were fired?

Yes, to avoid lawsuits.

Can a workplace prohibit headscarves (being worn for health-related reasons)?

No, but some places will try anyway. Workplaces are made of individuals and individuals hold preferences for weird reasons or no reason. All things being equal, I can think of several reasons an employer might prefer not to hire someone who wears a headscarf for medical reasons. Even banal reasons such as "she sounds difficult, let's hire the person who has no preconditions for employment".
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:47 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're a temp it's automatically not a permanent position, and as Aizkolari pointed out, if you're in an at will state they can let you go for any reason (and the not telling limits liability). As for the scarf, maybe the assignment has a strict customer-facing dress code?
posted by brilliantine at 2:48 PM on July 28, 2011

Yeah, the at-will thing goes as well. The less rope they give you is that much less rope you can hang them with.
posted by griphus at 2:48 PM on July 28, 2011

Also employment law does vary a ton based on the state, if you're even in the US, and of course the country, so consider my answer above contingent upon you being a US citizen.

This is also why it's pretty critical to say what jurisdiction you're in if you're going to ask an employment-related question, even if you want to be anonymous.
posted by Aizkolari at 2:53 PM on July 28, 2011

If you are in the US, the ADA might cover your use of the headscarf for medical reasons (as long as it doesn't interfere with necessary functions of the job), depending on what the reasons are, but very little about ADA is cut-and-dry and you may have to kick up a fuss and/or involve a lawyer to get them to accept that right. And of course you saying it's for health reasons wouldn't be enough, you would need some sort of documentation from medical professionals.
posted by brainmouse at 2:55 PM on July 28, 2011

Aside from at-will, you're an employee of the temporary agency -- the temp agency didn't fire you, did they? Whether or not the business you worked at continued their contract with the temp agency is between them and the temp agency. Whether or not you know the details is up to the temp agency's discretion. If I were running a temp agency, I would only tell you the details if they affected my ability to place you in a new temporary position. If the business that requested a temp has a stupid reason for ending the placement or requesting a different temp, I'd avoid telling you because it wouldn't really matter to your ability to do your job.

One reason businesses hire temps is simply for the ability to be picky about who's doing the work, because doing that with direct-hires gets too complicated.
posted by AzraelBrown at 3:05 PM on July 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

In my state, employers are legally obligated to provide a written reason for termination and a copy of your employment file if you request such in writing. Check your state's statutes to see if they have something similar - you might want to request both from the temp agency and also the employer Of course, they might provide a bullshit answer for your firing, but that might also give you some insight into what's really going on. If you think you may have been illegally discriminated against, you can contact an employment attorney and ask for a free consultation, and for them to represent you on a contingency basis if they think you have a case (though this isn't especially likely if they don't think there's big bucks coming your way).
posted by Safiya at 3:11 PM on July 28, 2011

IANAL Even in at-will states, you cannot be fired for certain reasons, usually having to do with not being able to discriminate against certain groups. Your state will have an attorney general, with a web page, and you can contact them for assistance and advice. Your employment was terminated earlier than expected, which may be actionable. Even as a temp, the temp agency is your employer, and you may still be considered a regular employee of the agency after a period of time.

Sounds like this sucks a lot, and I'm sorry you have to go through it.
posted by theora55 at 3:36 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I do believe Azraelbrown is correct--in its simplest form temp means temp. Assuming no State or Federal anti-discrimination or wage/salary laws were violated there is very little recourse. As for the headscarf--there are a number of reaons--the temp agency may have its own policies regarding dress, employers have policies. Stating you have a medical condition is rather vague--is the scarf to protect yourself/others, is it part of a necessary and required treatment, is it part of a disability covered by the ADA, is it essentially cosmetic. I am not suggesting you in anyway disclose this to"us" but it is an important piece of information regarding employer/employee rights. (Our dress code.negotiated with the union, did not permit any hats, scarves, etc. unless worn as part of a recognized religious practice.) From an employers point of view a headscarf is just one complaint away from an employee requesting and wearing a baseball cap.
posted by rmhsinc at 3:44 PM on July 28, 2011

I was once pulled out of a temp assignment by the agency because the company I was working for hadn't paid its bill with the temp agency. I was glad they told me why they were ending the assignment, but it also struck me as pretty unprofessional to discuss this with an employee. So pulling you out of there could have nothing to do with you at all.

And please note that being taken off an assignment is not the same as being fired. You were an employee of the temp agency when you worked at this job, and you still are. You haven't been fired, and you can be taken off a temp assignment at any time for any reason, so you have no recourse here.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 4:17 PM on July 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

Yeah, I've worked with temp agencies for a long time, and they don't really have to tell you why an assignment has ended. You didn't say how long you were at the position before you were let go, but there are dozens of reason why a "permanent" job can end suddenly. The hiring company might have changed their mind about needing someone in that position, there might have been budget cuts, some higher up might have questioned the need for an extra person in the company, you might have rubbed someone the wrong way... It could be anything... But as others have said, the temp company didn't fire you, so as long as you're still signed up with them then they shouldn't have an issue with your headscarf and should have no problem finding you other positions.

As for second temp company and your headscarf, that could be company policy. They just might not consider it professional since hats are not allowed. I wouldn't take it as directly toward you. It's odd that the temp agency doesn't allow it though. If your headscarf is for health purposes, then the coordinator can obviously find you positions where this would not be an issue. That's what they do.
posted by patheral at 4:33 PM on July 28, 2011

posted by mlis at 8:07 PM on July 28, 2011

Temp agencies almost never tell a temp why they've pulled them from an assignment. Most of the time they don't even know (the client just calls and says "let's have today be Bob's last day.") And if they do know, and it was something like "we feel like Bob's headscarf is not the right look for our front office" or whatever - they'll never tell, and it won't be in the file. But really, this is not a battle you're going to win, because you're not in an employment relationship with the client and the agency hasn't fired you. If you feel like the assignment was going well, like this really was out of the blue, talk to the agency and ask them if they're going to be placing you again. If they're evasive, they probably got some bad feedback about you.

Remember, they want their temps to do well. Ending an assignment that should have gone permanent means they have lost the fee they thought was theirs: at best they're going to have to do extra work to replace you, and at worst they have an unhappy client who's going to go to the competition from now on - a big loss. It's not like they pull temps for the fun of it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:38 PM on July 28, 2011

Mod note: From the OP:
In Ohio. It has been several months (and many phone calls to check-in) since termination, so it's unlikely the first agency will work with me again. It's possible I made a silly mistake that the company thought was cause for firing, since there was something like a 90% turnover. I'm fairly certain it couldn't have been a mistake that was a deal-breaker for the agency.

To answer questions raised, I did not wear a scarf at the first job. I will consider the advice--from the ADA option to not wanting to be considered "difficult" and going without a scarf.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:13 AM on July 29, 2011

If you are uncomfortable enough with your hair that you are wanting to wear a hat or a scarf, would you consider a wig instead? Many people who wear wigs actually have hair. They may be using the wig to cover their hair for religious reasons or aesthetic reasons. However, wigs are more common than many people realize and may not even get a raised eyebrow. If you were to wear a good wig and not mention the health issue, it seems that it may take that issue off the table with your next employer.
posted by onhazier at 6:48 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

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