If no one tells you that you're fired, are you really fired?
May 13, 2013 6:56 AM   Subscribe

My teenage daughter has her first job, but has apparently been fired yet no one told her or warned her. What can be done?

Unlike many kids these days, my high school aged daughter was successful in finding a part-time job. She is a hostess at a restaurant walking distance from our house (key since she can't drive yet). It does a lot more business in the summer as the majority of their seating is outside. So far she was getting 1, maybe 2 shifts a week. Last week she was not on their online scheduling calendar but did not think much of it because there are a lot of girls who are older that have been asking for more hours. Yesterday she logged on to check the new schedule and could not login.

She called and asked for a manager and got a server who is "sort of a manager". He told her she was blocked because she was fired for her "attitude" and "does not smile enough". No one called, emailed, or texted this firing. No one ever gave her any feedback that she was not smiling or meeting their expectations. This is her first ever job, and based on her age and application they are aware of this.

She immediately went to the restaurant to see a manager. They tried to pawn her off on the server/sort of a manager, but she insisted on a real manager (yeah for her). One of the owner/managers saw her, and he was not aware of the firing and asked when it happened. She told him just now. He asked her to call him back today. Our assumption is that he wants to talk to the managers to get their story behind this which is fine before discussing with her.

She is devastated because she thought she was doing well. Jobs for young people are hard to come by in the area, especially without transportation. And of course, it is mid-May and most things have already been hired. On top of that, college students are rolling back into town and looking for things as well.

Can they fire you and not tell you? Without warning or telling you that you are not doing something right? I get if she was stealing, drinking etc. but not smiling enough? What should she bring up in the conversation today? I also have a feeling that they may try the "we overhired for that position and you are the youngest (though not the last hired)" route. I know that the restaurant industry runs differently/has their own rules than others having worked in it myself but am trying to make sure she has her bases covered. FYI - she has handled all hiring and meetings on her own, I have never met any of these people.
posted by maxg94 to Work & Money (33 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Assuming this is in the US, she is almost certainly an at will employee. They can fire for any reason that isn't one of the protected classes (race, religion, sex, etc.) It sounds like the managers gave her shifts to older more experienced employees. Maybe a returning college student or two got back on the schedule too.

Welcome to the real world, and go find another job. There really isn't much more to do about it.
posted by COD at 7:03 AM on May 13, 2013 [11 favorites]

Response by poster: Yes, in the US forgot to put that. Yes, I know real world/learning experience. But why not be truthful?
posted by maxg94 at 7:08 AM on May 13, 2013

Yeah, I've had this happen to me when I was working in a restaurant in high school. We went on a family vacation and when we came back, I got the "we'll call you when we need you next" and just never got a call. I think it comes from managers who are confrontation-averse and (maybe more sinisterly) an effort to avoid paying unemployment. It's not much different than dumping someone by avoiding their phonecalls, etc. - it's kind of a shitty and cowardly thing to do, but it's easier than making a scene.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:10 AM on May 13, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I would just wait for the follow-up conversation with the manager later today. Seems premature right now to jump to any conclusions or consider any next steps.
posted by Dansaman at 7:11 AM on May 13, 2013 [17 favorites]

Rules vary by state, but at will employees can generally be terminated for any reason that isn't prohibited by statute (generally protected classes).

No harm in meeting with the real manager though. It's possible that a shift-supervisor overstepped their bounds and does not have the authority to fire in the organization.
posted by spaltavian at 7:12 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My guess is that the server who is "kind of" a manager attempted to get rid of your daughter. He couldn't formally fire her though, but took the opportunity to try and get her off the schedule. When she called, he claimed she was fired informally. This is why the manager did not know she'd actually been fired. If she had just stopped showing up, she would then get fired for real, this time for "not appearing for her shift" or "flaking out".

Something similar happened to me with a coworker who was "kind of" a supervisor, really someone who had just been on the job a long time, when I was between high school and college. I got along fine with everyone else, but for some reason he was threatened by me and was out to sabotage me anyway he could. Actually, if you think about it, someone whose seniority or position is so precarious after several years is naturally going to be scared of someone who is competent and young.

Having said all that, good on your daughter for going straight to the source. If she was a problem employee, they might have tried to counsel her and get her back on the straight path. BUT now that you know this server was probably trying to sabotage her, it's not worth it to go back. This server will look for any opportunity to get rid of her and everyone else will be looking at her more critically from now on.

If she can afford it, she's better off taking an unpaid internship or starting her own business. If not, there are other jobs - keep looking for them (how about temp work?). Meanwhile, she should negotiate with the boss to get a good reference letter that will help her on the next position.
posted by mitschlag at 7:13 AM on May 13, 2013 [14 favorites]

Best answer: In my experience it is pretty common (and shitty) practice to 'fire' people in the restaurant industry by just giving them few shifts, the worst shifts, or no shifts, and hoping that they'll kind of dwindle away on their own. Good for her for demanding answers, though. And if she can accept the bad parts, becoming a server is a great way to make easy money through your youth.
posted by whalebreath at 7:17 AM on May 13, 2013

Legally, they can almost certainly fire her for no reason/any reason. Not telling her she's fired is rude, unkind, and bad business practice, but let's face it: there are rude, unkind people running bad businesses all over the place.

I think your daughter is doing the right thing by following up but she shouldn't expect too much to come of it; even if she gets rehired the person who originally sabotaged her could continue to make her life miserable.
posted by mskyle at 7:19 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, I know real world/learning experience. But why not be truthful?

Because people are just that way, particularly restaurant owners who have businesses with high turnover and run their businesses rather capriciously according to their own eccentricities. A restaurant job is not a place where you should expect to be valued or rewarded. As an employee, your job is to show up and be dependable in the hopes of sucking as much money in wages and tips as you can from it. If your employer values your steady reliability, great. If not, then there will be dozens of other food-service jobs which also have high turnover that you can go to. But expecting the kind of "good work-feedback-reward" dynamic you would see in school or a professional job is not to be expected.

This is like asking why high school students are mean to each other or why significant others dump you suddenly, with no warning. It's because people are just "that way."
posted by deanc at 7:19 AM on May 13, 2013 [16 favorites]

Can they fire you and not tell you? Without warning or telling you that you are not doing something right? I get if she was stealing, drinking etc. but not smiling enough? What should she bring up in the conversation today? I also have a feeling that they may try the "we overhired for that position and you are the youngest (though not the last hired)" route. I know that the restaurant industry runs differently/has their own rules than others having worked in it myself but am trying to make sure she has her bases covered


Yes. Yes. Yes. Anything she wants, but it unlikely to change anything.

The restaurant can try any "route" it likes but it has no obligation to provide a "route". The manager could fired her because he didn't like her hairstyle, because he lost a bet, or because he though it would be fun. That is what at-will employment means, as other commenters have noted. Your daughter has no bases to cover because there is nothing actionable that I can see here. Of course, it is worth keeping in mind that at-will cuts both ways - it is also what would have allowed your daughter to quit at the drop of a hat.

Do I think the restaurant acted unprofessionally? Absolutely. But, they get to be.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:21 AM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think this depends on what state you're in - I've heard that in some states they can't fire you for cause without 3 written warnings or something like that, even non-union. To keep the "learning experience" going you could have her find an employment lawyer and just ask - in my experience lawyers can answer simple questions like this over the phone.
posted by bleep at 7:24 AM on May 13, 2013

Best answer: It is really good that she is meeting with the main manager today, hopefully he won't flake. Chances are, she won't get her job back because he won't want to anger the sometimes manager. Sadly this sort of thing is done all the time- good employees lost because the bad ones are too much trouble to anger. It is legal, just not a good business practice. Encourage your daughter to go into the meeting today with the goal of getting a good recommendation for her next job. You and she really don't want her working at a place that is so poorly managed. It will be nothing but heartache and frustration if she were to continue there.
posted by myselfasme at 7:28 AM on May 13, 2013 [20 favorites]

What whalebreath said - this is common in a lot of hourly randomly-assigned-shiftwork. Everyone lives in fear of crossing the scheduler, or the scheduler's cronies, lest they get their hours cut to nothing and then the scheduler tells the manager that they no call/no showed.

It's good that she's talking to the manager, but it is unlikely that the manager will do anything about it because the sort-of manager is the one who does all his crap work.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:32 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know this isn't what you want to hear, but 'not smiling enough' is not a terrible reason for firing a hostess. Yes, a professional operation would have said 'hey, we need you to be much more personable and friendly with the guests and that includes smiling more!' before they descheduled her, but making guests feel welcome is the focus of working the host stand. If she failed to notice that she was noticeably less outgoing and friendly than the other hostesses and adjust then not every restaurant is going to bother training for that, especially if they have a tonne of other girls clamoring for more hours. Some things are hard to train for and being naturally super friendly and engaging is one of them.

Of course, it's equally possible that she was descheduled for something completely else, like putting some bad tables in the sometimes manager/server's section and he's lying about the smile thing since it's hard to prove anything about. But there's very little upside here for her, unfortunately. If the main manager hires her back, she can count on the scheduling manager making her life pretty difficult anyway.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:41 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

In any case, the best way to maximize her chances of keeping this job is to focus the conversation on her desire to work hard and improve, not whining about how unfair or improper it is to let someone go without a conversation or warning.
posted by telegraph at 7:45 AM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Do I think the restaurant acted unprofessionally? Absolutely. But, they get to be.

This. Also, keep in mind that if the owners and managers and shift managers were capable of (or interested in) "acting professionally", they would have some kind of job or profession that was not in the restaurant business. How many restaurant owners/managers do you think are familiar with white collar norms like performance reviews? Even if they were, how many do you think actually liked and respected that kind of bureaucracy?

Yes, MeFi readers, I'm sure your restaurant is a paragon of professionalism, but for the most part, small-time restaurant owners are people who wanted to go into business for themselves, hire staff because they need someone to do the work, but would be perfectly happy to give that work to someone else willing to work for less or someone they're more friendly with or do the work themselves just to not have someone extra on staff that they have to pay for. And if there are some kind of weird catty social-dynamics and sabotaging behavior among the staff, the manager probably doesn't give a hoot as long as the customers are being served and revenue is being generated. And if you told him about it, he'd probably say, "work it out among yourselves."

The flipside is that you can always find another food-service job. You could get fired for showing up stoned to work every day and consistently screwing up customers' orders, and then you could walk across the street into another restaurant to get that same job on the basis of being experienced in the field. If your daughter wants some extra spending money, a part time restaurant that doesn't give her too much trouble is just fine. But she might have to try a few times to find the right one. Now she has "experience", so maybe she can find a better one within biking distance.

You sound like you're playing the role of over-protective parent upset that your daughter isn't being treated fairly. And she's not. But this is a good opportunity for her to realize that there are dickheads out there in the workforce and how to choose a workplace with healthy dynamics and how to walk away from a place where people are going to screw her over.
posted by deanc at 7:50 AM on May 13, 2013 [10 favorites]

But why not be truthful?

Well, because there is weak leadership that is trying to avoid the unpleasant parts of the job by delegating them to an underling who have control issues, but is unable to act professionally and with courtesy towards all staff.

For whatever reason the shift manager does not want your daughter to work there. It could be the legitimate 'hey she doesn't perform her job well enough', or, it's summer and these other long term staff want more hours, to the kind of shitty, hey I want to hire, give hours to my friends so I'll cut this new gal and maybe she won't say anything.

Something to consider though even if the meeting with he weak real manager goes well... does she really want to work at this place, especially now that she will be on the shift manager's shit list for going above him/her to the kinda real boss. Thsat and plus it sounds like a seriously awful work environment in the first place.
posted by edgeways at 7:51 AM on May 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

You have a manager who doesn't know what's going on. You have someone who took it upon themselves to "fire" your daughter.

This sounds like a total cluster-fuck, and it's a shame, but that's kind of the thing about independently owned businesses. They can be poorly run and managed and the people who work there just have to suck it up.

Your daughter is justifyably annoyed and upset, but file it under "oh well, they're assholes". It's not too late for her to get a babysitting gig, or a summer camp gig.

It's no reflection on your daughter, it's a reflection on the people she was working for. Helping her to see that, and to get her on the path to a summer gig is the best way to overcome this disappointment.

Don't buy into her outrage or the unfairness of it is. Welcome to the Real World. At this point, if I were her, I'd be looking for a new job, not trying to understand what happend at this one. It's pointless.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:12 AM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is pretty run of the mill for restaurants. Best firing practices are not to fire, because they keep unemployment payments down (this is what my former manager told me). So instead they reduce shifts and hardly ever formerly fire people. Most restaurant workers will leave and get a job at another restaurant.

The good news is, restaurants are almost always hiring because people are always leaving. It's not too late in the year for her to get a hostess job at another restaurant. She has experience now, and she should also take the criticism to heart, whether or not it was adequate grounds for an informal firing. Hostesses need to be extra smiley and friendly, it's basically the most important part of their job. If she wants to keep hostessing, she will almost certainly be able to get another job because of her experience there. The best thing for her to do is to figure out a way to frame why she's looking for another restaurant to work in that does not reflect poorly on her. Since the general manager didn't fire her, she should say she left voluntarily. Since she was only getting 1 to 2 shifts, the best thing may be to say she is looking for a job with more shifts and she was unable to get the amount of shifts she wanted at her previous restaurant. This is factual. The thing about restaurant management is that they're all about appearances. If someone comes in to interview and they're peppy and smiley and interested and interesting, and they can say they know how to do the job already, the hiring manager doesn't care about why they left the previous place. They care about whether or not this person is a good fit for their restaurant. Turnover, unjust firings/quittings, etc., are a part of the industry. It doesn't reflect poorly on your daughter, it isn't atypical for the industry, and it isn't illegal. It's just how the system works. It's a sucky system, and the reason I stopped serving, but it's how it is. It's also valuable in it's own way, because I know if I need to I could get a restaurant job within a week and I'd be making bank again at a serving job. And hostessing, and learning the ropes that way, is a great way for your daughter to work her way into a serving position and have either job as a great fallback in the future.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:22 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

even if she gets rehired the person who originally sabotaged her could continue to make her life miserable.

This keeps getting repeated, but it doesn't necessarily follow. To me the only scenario in which she gets hired back is if the manager wasn't aware of the firing, doesn't agree with it, and thinks the shift supervisor did not have the authority to do it given the circumstance.

That means, if she does get her job back, the supervisor would be repudiated by management. The supervisor might actually totally back off the OP's daughter after being embarrassed liked that.

The manager is unlikely to give her the job back, because the manager doesn't care. But if the manager does give the job back, it means he does care to some degree and now it's on their radar.
posted by spaltavian at 8:23 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

As others have said, sure they legally can do this. And people do. But it's a shitty tactic, used by shitty people. No matter how bad a job she may have been doing, no matter how much of a newbie to the game she was, she deserved better. Please tell her that getting fired in this way is a sure sign that they and not her were the problem.
posted by tyllwin at 8:40 AM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

That means, if she does get her job back, the supervisor would be repudiated by management. The supervisor might actually totally back off the OP's daughter after being embarrassed liked that.

You clearly have no idea how petty people like that can be. I would have absolutely 0 interest in going back to work at a place like that.
posted by empath at 8:41 AM on May 13, 2013 [6 favorites]

If the manager doesn't flake and actually meets with your daughter, I think the healthiest, most head-held-high thing she can ask him is "Can you give me some specific examples of where you would have preferred I'd said/done something different than I did? That way I can take a lesson or two with me to my next job."
posted by headnsouth at 9:03 AM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

This keeps getting repeated, but it doesn't necessarily follow. To me the only scenario in which she gets hired back is if the manager wasn't aware of the firing, doesn't agree with it, and thinks the shift supervisor did not have the authority to do it given the circumstance.

Nah, in an organization that's already shown their willingness to do things in the lowest friction possible, you're overlooking the possibility that the manager will say 'Oh, it was all a mistake, you were only supposed to be descheduled until we had a chance to talk to you about this. You're still working here.'

These are not people who are behaving in adult, professional ways, they've shown themselves to be butt-covering, conflict-avoiding cowards, and there's no real reason to think they will change that behaviour going forward.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:18 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Firing her without telling her or giving her any warning is a crummy thing to do but as others have said, it happens. Getting fired sucks but it's like getting dumped in that if you're in the working or dating worlds, it probably has happened to you and if not, it will.

I think that the best thing you can do is respond with an attitude of, that sucks, bummer, oh well. This sucks but being devastated is a strong reaction. Her colleagues were unprofessional and rude and she's better off without them. I'm sure she would prefer to be better off without them but still receiving a paycheck from them but oh well.

I wouldn't fight being fired because I don't think a lousy server/hostess job is one worth fighting for. I would say to the person with whom she is meeting, I'm sorry that this didn't work out, I would appreciate it if you have any advice for how I can do better in my next position, would it be possible to list you as a reference going forward? I feel like asking for specific examples is a bit whiny but that's just me.

FWIW, a friend was "fired" and then asked to come in later that day for a fast food shift. I was fired from a job refereeing at a laser tag place because I forgot my whistle one day. Working sometimes sucks and bosses can be arbitrary and unfair. It's not like school where you can ask the teacher for extra credit. She is really better off for having had this experience.
posted by kat518 at 9:32 AM on May 13, 2013

This happened to me as well. I turned up at the chip shop where I worked, was told 'there are no shifts for you this week, you should go' and had to phone someone the next day to find out what was going on. (Said person asked me 'why didn't you talk to [guy I had never heard of before] who runs the place?' Er, because I'd never met or even heard of him until now.) The firing did not bother me so much as the way it was done - it was unprofessional and I didn't appreciate the obfuscation involved. I can well understand why your daughter is upset.

I'm not in the US, so the legal side is not something I have experience with, but I have also been let go from temp jobs in a similar way twice - they decided something wasn't working, or the amount of work changed, and instead of telling me outright, they told me to call in at the temp agency. Only once did someone bother to sit me down and explain to me that my services were no longer needed. Temps are seen as an expendable commodity, and so are service workers. They know there are lots of kids looking for a job, and sadly this means they don't particularly need to care about letting someone down easily, or properly.
posted by mippy at 10:15 AM on May 13, 2013

Response by poster: I marked answers that I found most helpful and applied to the question. There is no plan to pursue this legally or through unemployment. Learning more about at will employment was useful. In my years in restaurants, I saw first hand sexual harassment, tax evasion, firings, embezzlement, and all sorts of unfair practices so I know it happens and it is not the same as other industries or the corporate world (as I mentioned).

Being devastated is what 15 year old kids are when things like this happen. Even though she has been through much, much worse, in her life, it still feels terrible to her. She was so proud of her job and thinks she will have to tell people / friends that she got fired. And at that age, you tend to think you will never get another job. That is how they see things, and she will learn that it is not the end of the world.

I didn't think I was playing the over-protective parent in that she has done everything for this job on her own. Including going and talking to the manager yesterday. As I said I have not even met these people, and I am not the one talking to them. I don't think her talking to them will change anything and she is not going in there whining about unfairness, but I want her to learn to stand up and advocate for herself. The world is full of rude people and bad bosses and she is learning that but it doesn't mean she can't stand up for herself and try to learn how to improve herself for the next time.
posted by maxg94 at 12:13 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Once upon a time, 20-year-old me stopped by the grocery store I'd worked at for four years, checked the schedule as usual, and saw that I had no hours scheduled on the computer-generated sheet for the coming week. I figured it was no big deal, since I had another part-time job and some good free-lance opportunities, so I made do.

Seven days later I stopped in to check the schedule again, and saw that someone had updated the past week's schedule by hand to give me two days' worth of hours. That person didn't call to tell me, and nobody called me the two days I didn't show up for those hours.

So, I immediately confronted the new* boss about it, and he said it was my responsibility to know about schedule changes and whatnot, even if that meant I had to show up every day on the off-chance someone (ie him) had altered the schedule manually. Me being me, I thanked him for making his position clear, walked out without another word, and never came back. About three months later, I received a notice from the union that I'd just been fired the week prior for failing to show up to work.

Companies -- and the people who manage employees within them -- ultimately care about keeping their own jobs. Some of them know how to do this in ways that are good and fair to the people they manage, and some manage through fear and intimidation and nonsense like I'm describing above. That's why it is so important for your daughter to be the kind of person she is -- one who's willing to go through official channels and stand up for herself.

She should also learn to network and search for new job opportunities constantly throughout her working life. Whether it was walking out on that grocery store job (trivial for me, since I had other opportunities going on), walking out on the last job I held in my first formal career (trivial for me since I was able to network myself into a rent-paying job in a matter of minutes) or transferring to a much better job within the company I work now (trivial for me, because I'd been looking for opportunities anyway, so when my new boss insulted me repeatedly I was able to transfer the same week) this approach has always helped me when I've needed it, whether the job was six figures or six dollars an hour.

*my awesome old boss had transferred to a newly-opened store, presumably to make it as much of a success as the previous one, and the new boss was a complete tool
posted by davejay at 12:21 PM on May 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

I know it sucks having to tell people that you got fired. It's obviously not her fault and she has nothing to feel ashamed of though I understand. I'd encourage her to make it sound like a joke when she tells people because it is funny in a ridiculous way and it will help her see it that way. "Yeah, they basically fired me without even telling me - can you believe that? How crazy is that?!" More haha-funny-story than Deep Dark Secret. Good luck!
posted by kat518 at 2:34 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

She also doesn't need to tell people she got fired. She can just say that they stopped giving her hours, which is the truth.
posted by looli at 9:39 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Poster wrote in comment #3494244">> She was so proud of her job and thinks she will have to tell people / friends that she got fired.

Nahh, in case this isn't obvious, she really doesn't have to tell people she got fired. She didn't get booted, she just didn't get scheduled. "They couldn't give me enough shifts and let me go" is absolutely truthful and totally typical and the subjectiveness of the decision is very standard for the restaurant industry.

Good for her in handling all the details of her job herself, insisting on speaking to her real manager, and following through. She was the grownup here, her instincts were totally right, and heck, I'm a total stranger on the internet who's proud of her. Don't let the bastards grind you down, I say.
posted by desuetude at 10:30 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have not worked in the restaurant or retail industries, but I have heard frequently that people are usually passive-aggressively fired by no longer being given shifts. It's shitty but typical.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:41 PM on May 13, 2013

I think you've done an admirable job in finding a balance between helping your daughter and letting her find her own way and learn and grow from adversities.
posted by Dansaman at 12:33 PM on May 14, 2013

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