Washington State Worker issue
January 4, 2014 1:12 PM   Subscribe

My friend is having an employment situation crisis (Washington state), and it's difficult to find a lawyer to consult on the weekend. Is there a case here, or is at will termination going to come into play here? I know that he needs to talk to a lawyer, but it's a little bit of an emergency. :)

My friend has worked somewhere for 6 years. Overall, he has been a good employee. All issues have been resolved quickly (most recently, an issue was due to severe family illness), and in the 6 years he's been there, he has gotten multiple raises. Recently, he brought up the idea that he might work from home and move a few towns over to a different state. This town is over 2 hours away from where the physical office he worked at is located. The employer was fine with this and said that the two prerequisites were that my friend had fast enough Internet to work remotely and that he be able to come in if he was needed.

Two days after he moved, the employer said that he had changed his mind and needed him to work from the office again...and that he absolutely had to come in on Monday. My friend told the employer that he wanted to talk about it over the phone, and the employer said it was non-negotiable. My friend again asked if they could talk over the phone, and the employer then shut him out of work email and erased his work phone. My friend sent an email from personal email saying that he was shocked and that he wanted an official termination letter. The employer responded, saying that he urged him to reconsider his request to come into the office, told him he could come in on Tuesday, and then said he needed the response by tomorrow (Sunday).

What should my friend do? There aren't any legal offices open today! He can't access the emails they sent earlier because he's been shut out of his work email, and everything on his phone is gone. Washington is an at will state. He doesn't want to quit--he just wants to be able to work in the manner that he and his employer agreed upon: working remotely, fast Internet access, coming in if absolutely needed.

Thank you, hive mind! <3
posted by semaphore to Law & Government (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I am a little confused. Your friend agreed that he could and would come to the office if absolutely necessary, but he is not willing to show up on Monday morning to discuss this?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:19 PM on January 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

The employer is allowed to change his mind about telecommuting. It looks like they may be trying to make sure he comes to the office by cutting off email. It's obnoxious, and unfortunate, but your friend should go into the office and try to find out what's going on in a rational way.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 1:20 PM on January 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: JohnnyGunn: He agreed to come in if they couldn't resolve it over the phone, and that's when the phone service and email was cut off. It's a very small office. Just trying to figure out if he has any room here and what he should do. :)
posted by semaphore at 1:22 PM on January 4, 2014

He shouldn't quit, not yet. The employer renegged. They should do the honorable thing and lay him off (which will allow him to collect unemployment). Assuming your friend has some record of things, he has some leverage to get the employer to do the right thing. That's probably something to talk to an attorney about, but that can wait until the work week.
posted by Good Brain at 1:29 PM on January 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Good Brain: He unfortunately doesn't have a record because he was locked out of his email. Should he ask for it so he can resume duties on Monday and then also say he will be able to come in on Tuesday to discuss?

I'll lay off the responses--just trying to clarify. Thanks, mods. :)
posted by semaphore at 1:34 PM on January 4, 2014

Your friend's employer has the right to demand he come into the office. The fact that your friend is thinking an attorney might help betrays a serious misunderstanding of what it means to be an employee-at-will. His employer is the sole determiner of what "absolutely needed" means. His employer is also the sole determiner of who gets phone and email access. If your friend wants to salvage his job, which is doubtful, he needs to back the hell down.
posted by Wordwoman at 1:36 PM on January 4, 2014 [7 favorites]

Best answer: The employer was fine with this and said that the two prerequisites were that my friend had fast enough Internet to work remotely and that he be able to come in if he was needed.

The employer says he is needed on Monday. Thus far the employee has not indicated that he will come in. So it sounds like the employee is not following the agreement. Regardless, both the employee and employer can change their mind at any time.

If there is any way your friend can come in Monday, he should do so. I'm not really sure what an employment lawyer would be able to do for you before then. You can talk to one on Monday morning.
posted by grouse at 1:39 PM on January 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Is he not going into the office based on principle, or some other reason? He should show up on Monday, if possible.
posted by Houstonian at 1:40 PM on January 4, 2014

your friend needs to go into the office. there is nothing a lawyer can help you with here. the boss might be being a jerk, but he's not behaving outside of the agreement. the boss is the sole determiner of "necessary."
posted by nadawi at 1:41 PM on January 4, 2014

Best answer: I am a lawyer but this comment is more practical advice. Your friend should report to work on Monday -- get up early and drive. And see what happens, get more information, be polite and professional. If the opportunity is available, explain the difficulties of reporting to work every day given the move, reiterate the offer / prior agreement to telecommute and to come in as needed. No matter what the situation, showing up on Monday will only help your friend's situation or, if it comes to that, case. Not showing up would be considered a "bad fact."

There is a legal theory that could apply, which is called "detrimental reliance." Essentially, if your friend relied upon the promise of telecommuting, and then took steps based on the promise, such as letting go of an apartment, selling a house, buying a house, etc., then there can be some limited contract damages. But whether such a legal theory would apply would depend upon all of the facts so someone would need to hear the whole story to assess and under Washington state contract and employment law.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 1:51 PM on January 4, 2014 [7 favorites]

I would be willing to bet they want him to come in just so they can fire him, entirely as an inconvenience.

Should he still go? absolutely. Is that an incredibly seattle small business thing to do? totally, i groaned just looking at it.

There really isn't any good answer that doesn't involve going in monday though. Despite this being a stupid power play on the bosses part.
posted by emptythought at 1:55 PM on January 4, 2014

Best answer: I would be willing to bet they want him to come in just so they can fire him, entirely as an inconvenience.

It's not just an inconvenience. If he refuses to go in, it could make the employer's case for dismissal for cause better.
posted by grouse at 2:02 PM on January 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I worked for a company that suddenly told everyone who worked from home in a state in which we didn't have an official office already that they had to relocate to an official office/state or they would be let go. It can be a headache for the employer when it comes to taxes. So the employer may have gotten legal advice after having made his promise which is encouraging him to renege. Regardless, he said he'd go to the office when required and it's clearly required. Monday.
posted by cecic at 2:08 PM on January 4, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks, all. This has helped immensely. Love y'all, and 1 million appreciations. <3
posted by semaphore at 2:24 PM on January 4, 2014

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