Exiting as Gracefully (and Safely) as Possible
January 16, 2013 9:15 AM   Subscribe

I feel that my current job threatens my personal safety. How can I leave this job as professionally as possible while protecting that safety?

Background for the question: Let me start this by saying that I love my job. Or, at least, I used to. Without being too specific, let's say that I work in a field that involves a lot of client contact. This used to be great, because I love working directly with people. However, the clients we help have changed significantly over the past couple of years--many of our clients are now dealing with long-term homelessness, untreated mental illness, and drug problems, with few available resources to help. The services we provide are becoming more like those that a social services agency provides, which sounds great. The catch, however, is that we are not really a social services agency with the training and infrastructure that such an organization provides.

As a result of these changes, my job has grown increasingly dangerous. Adminstrators do not take security risks from clients seriously, and are not trained in working with people who are suffering from mental illness or substance abuse conditions. Our facility has inadequate security. Threats of violence by clients are dismissed, and it seems like they grow more and more common. Physical altercations between clients inside the facility where I work have become more common, too. Recently, a client threatened me directly while I was at work. As much as I love the parts of my job that do not involve fending off these risks (and those parts do exist), my family and I are growing very concerned about my personal safety, and I think I need to quit.

Now, here is where the actual question starts. The catch is that I have been working for this employer for over ten years. This is the longest entry on my CV. I am currently seeking opportunities in another field, and hope to line something up before resigning. However, I do not want to burn any bridges, and for the sake of good relations with this employer in the future, I feel obligated give at least two weeks of notice before departing as a professional courtesy. Am I an idiot to try to continue on in this situation for another two weeks?

As a bonus question, in my official letter of resignation, if I do state that safety/security concerns are the reason for my resignation, will that come back to bite me later if I ever need a reference? Is it better to write a brief, generic resignation letter with as little extraneous information as possible?

Note: I'm specifically asking for advice as to how to resign as professionally as possible while preserving my personal safety. Please do not offer advice regarding ways to change conditions at my job. I have thought very long and very hard about my decision to move on.

Thanks for your help. 
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Am I an idiot to try to continue on in this situation for another two weeks?

It's hard to say for sure, given what you've described in general terms here. But as someone who has worked at a lot of social service agencies serving the types of clients you describe (where the training and infrastructure is usually not actually all that great), I would say that you are probably going to be fine working there for another couple of weeks. There may be specific information that you left out of your question that indicates a greater proximate risk, but as written, two weeks does not seem like an unreasonable amount of time.
posted by OmieWise at 9:24 AM on January 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

I believe that writing the simplest letter of resignation is the best. You've tried to address the safety issues and they're not being heard.

Pretty much every resignation letter I've written looks like this:

Dear Boss,

Please accept this as my letter of resignation, effective as of date-two-weeks-out. I have learned so much in my X years with the agency and I am very appreciative of the excellent working relationship we've built. I would like to schedule a meeting to discuss the upcoming transition. Thank you again for the skills and experience I have been able to grow under your guidance.



A little smoke up the skirt never hurt anyone. Be sure to ask if your boss would hesitate about providing a refrerence. Do this verbally, "May I use you as a reference?"

Good Luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:26 AM on January 16, 2013 [30 favorites]

It's hard to tell from your question whether you've brought this directly to the attention of your supervisor(s) previously. What's the structure there like? Generically, you don't need to state why you're resigning, especially not in writing. And like you said, 2 weeks' notice is standard, but if you're afraid for your safety, don't go - it's as simple as that.

Also, you're conflating 2 different things here - a "reference" from the company, which consists of nothing but "yes X worked here from 1/1/89 to 1/1/99" and a "reference" from some superior or coworker who likes you and wants to vouch for you. If you've got somebody who likes you, they're not going to care about giving notice, and if somebody from the company bad mouths you when a potential employer calls asking to verify your employment, guess what, you get to sue them - that's a no-no. So you're kind of worried about nothing on that score.
posted by facetious at 9:27 AM on January 16, 2013

Ruthless Bunny has it right. Keep it simple, postive and professional on paper.
posted by caroo at 9:28 AM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I had a client bring a gun specifically to shoot me at a former job. This was just one in a string of many incidents involving weapons, drugs, mental illness and just plain meanness. I gave 2 weeks notice and specifically stated my reason for leaving was inadequate security and threats to my personal safety. I did it because I was afraid for the co-workers I was leaving behind and I wanted to document my concerns should something happen. There were no negative repercussions.

I'm sorry you're going through this. It is really awful to feel threatened at a place that you have to return to every day.
posted by kamikazegopher at 9:28 AM on January 16, 2013 [10 favorites]

Recently, a client threatened me directly while I was at work.

Is this someone who will be back within two weeks, who told you that the next time they saw you they'd oh, say, kill you? Because that would affect my response.
posted by feral_goldfish at 9:30 AM on January 16, 2013 [7 favorites]

Yikes. I know what you're talking about. My mother worked as an RN in a small group-home type mental health facility for more than twenty years and watched as conditions deteriorated and the place became a dumping-ground for juvenile delinquents whose antisocial and often aggressive behavior the staff became increasingly unable to handle. I was worried about her walking between buildings in the middle of the night (she had the night shift), because there was some sort of regulation that enforcing a curfew was a violation of clients' rights, and so these kids were hanging around the outside of the buildings at all hours unsupervised. She retired a few years ago, as frustrated as you must be by now.

She did assure me that until her very last day she relied for security and help in situations she couldn't handle on her own on a couple of night staffers who were big, strong, and able to handle any client conflict. She got along with them well and always knew where they were at all times. Do you have a co-worker or two who have some physical strength and size (and the natural authority and respect that comes with it)?

The difference is that no one ever threatened my mother personally. Perhaps you should work out an emergency plan with a couple of co-workers you trust (including someone, as I said above, who is more able to deal physically with a violent client) that you can rely on if there's another incident with the person who made the threat (or anyone else who does so) for the next two weeks? And keep your cell phone close and fully charged in case you need to call for help or police.
posted by tully_monster at 9:46 AM on January 16, 2013

Give two weeks; there's nothing to be gained from putting any detail whatsoever in a resignation letter. Move on.
posted by spaltavian at 10:01 AM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Do you have sick time? I have worked in social services for 23 years and had a few uncomfortable and dangerous incidents but was completely backed up by my organization. I would give two weeks and take as much sick time as possible in those weeks.
posted by Sophie1 at 10:20 AM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

*Yes, give at least two full weeks' notice. Always. This is more for you than for your current employer --- it'll impress your next boss far more than if you'd just walked out without warning, plus it'll also make it far more likely that you'll get a good reference from your current boss.
*When you write that resignation letter, simply go with a brief no-details "please accept my resignation, effective [date]." Perhaps add something about 'I've enjoyed my time at x company, and would like to thank you for the opportunities I have been given.' Do not put anything about the security problems in writing; mention that in your exit interview if you want, but not in your resignation letter. Keep it formal and polite, no matter why you're leaving.
*Clean out all personal items from your desk and your computer before you hand in that resignation letter; depending on the job and the employer, some places escort departing employees straight to the door the minute they hand in their notice. Assume this will happen to you; if it doesn't, fine, but don't be caught by surprise.
*Be professional: train any replacement person, leave all files clearly marked and easily available, generally make the transition as easy as possible --- again, this is more for you and making sure you get a good reference than for their sake. (I've actually known people who did minor sabotage or file-hiding or whatever on their way out: don't be one of them.)
posted by easily confused at 10:39 AM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have experience working with a similar population, so I get it. I'd give at least two weeks unless there's something you aren't telling us. Also, there's nothing preventing you from alerting law enforcement to threats you've received.
posted by murfed13 at 10:45 AM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Give two weeks; there's nothing to be gained from putting any detail whatsoever in a resignation letter. Move on.

Exactly right. If asked, the only excuse is that you found a gig that pays better. EVERYONE can understand and agree taking a job that pays you more money is an OK thing and there are never any hard feelings about that.
posted by three blind mice at 11:36 AM on January 16, 2013

Use the Nixon model for efficient letter of resignation.

Dear Boss,

I hereby resign my position as [worker bee] effective [two weeks from today]



Any details can be filled in face to face verbally.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:50 AM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

spaltavian: "Give two weeks; there's nothing to be gained from putting any detail whatsoever in a resignation letter. Move on."

If you care about the safety of your coworkers, I would advise against this strategy.

For you personally, it might not be the best move, but this would be the sort of thing that I couldn't keep quiet about in good conscience.

If your job is routinely putting you in extreme and mortal peril, I think that it's one of those few cases where it's perfectly okay to run away screaming, and not care about burning bridges in the process.
posted by schmod at 12:25 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

The time to take care of your current co-workers by suggesting security enhancements and revisions of safety policies is from the safety and security of your new job, which you will get as soon as possible after you give your two weeks' notice and murmur polite things about the things you did like about this job and have some cake and all the other things one does when leaving a job.

That may sound callous, but with unemployment as high as it is, particularly in the social-service sector (which it sounds like you're in), you've got to put your own oxygen mask on first.

This advice is assuming you are not the target of a specific threat by a client. If you are the target of a specific threat, and your superiors have been negligent in responding to this threat and doing what they can to protect you from it, you need an employment attorney to negotiate an immediate exit for you with no retaliation in terms of references, benefits, etc.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:21 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Even if your employer doesn't take your safety seriously, that doesn't prevent you from doing so, up to and including calling the cops if someone threatens you. Document everything, if you aren't already.

Even if you give two weeks' notice, you may not have to work out the full two weeks. It's often the case that employers will cut that period short. I'll keep fingers crossed for you that that's the case here.
posted by parrot_person at 8:02 PM on January 16, 2013

IMHO, you are the only one that can decide whether you should stay for 2 weeks or leave immediately. All the folks above that are saying to absolutely give 2 weeks notice... well, that is for normal circumstances, which you don't have. If you truly fear for your life/safety, and especially if you have brought this up with your boss and have not gotten a good response, then I think you get to make the decision to leave immediately, without worrying about the repercussions of the two week notice. Send a letter of resignation or leave one on your desk, gather all your personal stuff, and just go. Two weeks notice is a courtesy, not a law.

If I were interviewing you for a new position, I don't think I would ever find out that you left your last job with no notice. Job verification services (The Work Number, which many companies use) wouldn't have that information. If you work in an industry where lots of people know each other and gossip about it and have blacklists, then maybe. But if you explained in the interview what happened and the lack of support from management, I would not hold that against you.

I don't know anything about the laws, but I think it's worth it to explore whether this would make you eligible for unemployment insurance. Does "I really CAN'T work here anymore" mean that you left voluntarily?? not sure.

I can't imagine how AskMe would feel if something really did happen to you in the next 2 weeks. So, my advice is to really assess the situation. How likely do you think the danger is? If that number is above your threshold for feeling safe, just go.
posted by CathyG at 12:30 PM on January 17, 2013

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