Washington State At-Will Employment Law
December 19, 2017 1:33 PM   Subscribe

My partner has been applying for a new job since her hours were reduced at her current job. She found full-time employment pretty quickly and gave her two weeks at her current employer. A day later she was fired. Is there any recourse besides living well?

The prospective employer offered her a job, which will start in January, but she'll be without an income from now until then, which puts a strain on our budget. There was no history of verbal or written warnings, the termination is in my partner's mind a response to finding new employment and putting in 2 weeks. Both employers are pre-schools, fwiw.

In this situation does an employee have any power at all? I am struggling to give her advice because I have worked for a unionized workforce for the last 9 years and this type of termination would be unheard of in my workplace. We know that an employee isn't required to give 2 weeks but she was trying to do the right thing and make sure future references would be positive. She feels like she was fired in retaliation.

I'm pretty sure we should just be thankful that she found a new job so fast but would appreciate any advice on how to deal with the situation.
posted by kittensofthenight to Work & Money (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
...was she literally fired, or did they just say they didn't want/need her to work her two weeks' notice? I apologize if you're already clear on the difference there, but it's worth checking, because if it's the latter, that's common, there's nothing to be done about it, and it doesn't look like a bad mark on your employment record (at least in my experience when it happened to me). If it's the former then I got nothin', though.

Good luck!
posted by dust.wind.dude at 1:40 PM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is a shitty thing for employers to do, but it is pretty common. I'm shocked that it would happen at a preschool, though, where giving closure to the kids would be of fairly high importance.

Typically it happens because the employer believes (for whatever erroneous reason) that the employee might be a liability during their notice period. I'm not saying she would, but that is typically the reason given.

Was there an employee handbook? That might shed some light on the situation.

Bottom line: as an at will employee she can be let go for any reason. It sucks, and I think it would be a particularly mean-spirited thing to do right at the end of the year, but it is fairly common.
posted by anastasiav at 1:41 PM on December 19, 2017

I'm sorry this happened to her. This will vary state by state, but since your partner is unemployed at no fault of her own, she may be able to receive unemployment benefits for the two-week notice period. Others may be able to chime in with information specific to Washington State.

(Filing for unemployment benefits should also cost her former employer money, which hopefully will discourage them from this type of behavior going forward.)
posted by lmindful at 1:48 PM on December 19, 2017 [18 favorites]

IANAL, but my brother is (we both live in WA). To quote from Labor and Industries: "The law does not require a business to give a worker notice before terminating their job. Nor does the law require workers to give notice before quitting. There are no laws regarding dismissal, so businesses are not required to give warnings or follow any particular steps." Tl;dr: they had every right to just let her go, just as she had every right to wait until the day before the new job to quit. She did the right thing; they didn't. However...

"Workers may request the reason for discharge by sending a written request to the business for a signed written statement of the reason for discharge and the effective date.

Businesses must respond to the request in writing within 10 days of receipt of the worker’s request. If a worker wants to write a letter requesting a written reason for being fired, the worker should be sure to date the letter, keep a copy of it, and send it to the business by certified mail, return receipt requested. This provides evidence of when the request was sent and whether or not the business received it."

It might be worth her time to write them a letter today. More on firing vs. laying off. ESD would also be the source for trying to file an unemployment claim.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 2:09 PM on December 19, 2017 [5 favorites]

She should file for unemployment. She might also be able to get unemployment for the time when her hours were reduced.
posted by bleep at 2:20 PM on December 19, 2017 [8 favorites]

Yeah, the firing was almost certainly legal, but it's definitely worth looking into filing for unemployment. It appears that in Washington, quitting to accept a "bona fide" job offer doesn't automatically disqualify you, nor does quitting because your hours were decreased by at least 25%.

That doesn't guarantee that your partner will actually be able to collect benefits, but she doesn't really have anything to lose by applying.
posted by teraflop at 2:23 PM on December 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

In this case she was fired before she could quit though (as in "stop showing up"), and if they can't prove she was fired for doing a bad job, then that's what unemployment is for.
posted by bleep at 2:33 PM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

My "revenge," such as it is, would be to make sure the other workers there know what happened so that no one makes the mistake of giving any notice to those employers in the future.

I'm sorry that this happened. It sucks.
posted by trig at 2:41 PM on December 19, 2017 [9 favorites]

Some employers do this. As trig says, when they do, remaining employees should learn to never bother with the nicety of giving advance notice.
posted by ovvl at 3:25 PM on December 19, 2017 [4 favorites]

This might go beyond the scope of what you are asking (part of the question appears to be how to meet the economic gap) - one possibility in addition to seeing if your partner qualifies for unemployment is to contact the new company and let them know about your partner's current availability status. Some companies wait far beyond the time when they needed an employee, so your partner might be able to begin training or working earlier.

I would put that high on the list - if it is something that you both want.

Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 3:40 PM on December 19, 2017 [4 favorites]

She should apply for unemployment immediately.

She very likely won't get the payments until after the new job starts, and then she'll have to fill out the forms that say "I'm done; have found employment," but late payments to help with the gap will still help.

And if she's in contact with her former coworkers, she should let them know: absolutely, don't bother giving any notice when you've found a new job.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:14 PM on December 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers, some really valuable advice! We hadn't even thought about unemployment.

To address some questions:

She wasn't literally fired, she was given a letter saying that today would be her last day, with no explanation.

She initially asked for a later start date to accommodate 2 weeks notice, so she is contacting new employer to see if she can go back to original start date, 12/26. Essentially being considerate to her current employer created this mess in the first place. If that works out then this is less of an emergency .

Also here is a pretty crazy detail that doesn't effect the question, I don't think:

When they reduced her hours about 3 weeks ago they had her sign a non-disclosure agreement, saying she wouldn't take 'trade secrets' or work for another preschool within 5 miles. I thought this was completely out of line for a preschool, but my partner is a much more responsible person and followed the stipulations of the non-disclosure agreement when applying for new jobs. The new employer is 15 miles away from the old job, and is a different type of teaching approach.
posted by kittensofthenight at 4:24 PM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding filing for unemployment. Be advised that unemployment doesnt' give you a check in the first week you file, so she's going to get max one check, but, aside from the money, it'll send a message to the employer.

She must make sure she meets the requirements for getting unemployment, vis-a-vis job-search activity; I'm not sure how that stuff is affected by having employment lined up in the future, but people (my cousin, e.g.) do get their unemployment claims audited even in the first weeks.

If the employer contests unemployment, which is likely, she should appeal. The first volley of objection has basically no investigation; if she appeals, it'll force a moderate investigation. In that case, she should produce any exit documents or emails indicating she's been fired, a copy with date of her resignation/notice, etc.

And, general advice given to me by my father: never give notice on a job without being prepared, emotionally and financially, to walk out on that day. This kind of firing is very common, particularly in low-skill jobs where there's no particular benefit to keeping a departing employee around to train a new one, when other employees could train them just as easily.

On preview-- she was fired. "Involuntarily terminated," if you like, but she was fired. Firing isn't always an antagonistic process, but "let go" = fired. Save all documents in question. Get a copy of that NDA-- not a copy of their NDA with no signatures, but a copy of the NDA she signed.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:28 PM on December 19, 2017 [5 favorites]

They might have fired her for fear parents she has a good relationship with would follow her to the new school if she had two weeks of contact with them to let them know.

And that's exactly what I think she should do: find a way to let the parents know she's going to another school in case they want to follow her.
posted by jamjam at 4:34 PM on December 19, 2017 [5 favorites]

I should have previewed to see your comment, kotn.
posted by jamjam at 4:39 PM on December 19, 2017

Well, all the other employees now know to just quit and not give 2 weeks notice, hope it bites them in the ass.
She shouldn't let her new employer know she was fired (if they know your are in a bad spot, they could try to start you at a lower wage), she can say that she negotiated a sooner start time with her old employer...
posted by 445supermag at 5:41 PM on December 19, 2017

1. She should definitely file for unemployment, both for these upcoming weeks, and for the weeks where she had her hours reduced.

2. She might be exempt from the job search requirement, as she already has a job lined up. It's been a while since I've filed for UI in WA State, but I believe they do ask you if you have a job waiting. I have been in the situation where I had a signed offer letter, but the job didn't start for a couple of weeks after that; by letting WA UI know and giving them a copy of the offer letter, I was exempt from the job search requirement, yet was still allowed to file my weekly UI claim.
posted by spinifex23 at 5:42 PM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

She wasn't literally fired, she was given a letter saying that today would be her last day, with no explanation.

Depending on the jurisdiction you're in, nobody has to say "you're fired" for you to be fired from a job. If they're no longer allowing you to come to work, you can call it "let go", "laid off" or "today's your last day" but functionally for unemployment they're often treated as the same thing.
posted by notorious medium at 6:29 AM on December 20, 2017

Yeah, that's more what I meant - there's a difference (in terms of psychology, resume, and I would think legal action, but not in terms of unemployment filing) between "you can't quit, you're done because WE say so" and "oh, don't worry about working your two weeks, you can go now". Sounds like she got the first version. But it also sounds like it's not going to matter. Sorry for any derail of the thought train.
posted by dust.wind.dude at 7:00 AM on December 20, 2017

just fyi, the NDA and non-compete are most likely unenforceable. NDAs require 'consideration' for both parties which means your wife gets something out of signing the NDA (unless it is signed as part of the initial hiring). cutting her hours is the exact opposite of consideration.
posted by noloveforned at 7:49 AM on December 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

When they reduced her hours about 3 weeks ago they had her sign a non-disclosure agreement, saying she wouldn't take 'trade secrets' or work for another preschool within 5 miles.

Definitely research the laws of your state to see how they relate to NDAs and non-compete clauses; in California, they're almost entirely unenforceable.

"Trade secrets" is a blurry, pretty much meaningless phrase. NDAs of substance will specify not taking client info, so she can't tell parents that she's moving and they're welcome to follow her. I've seen NDAs for sales people that boil down to "you can't take your customers - our clients - if you go work for our competitor across town."

I could see that being damned hard to enforce, though; not only is it hard to enforce in general, but parents saying, "I want this caretaker for my child," has rather a different tone than a bakery saying, "I want this driver to deliver to my customers."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:01 PM on December 20, 2017

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