General Question

Jeruba's avatar

Job termination. Do we have any labor attorneys, corporate HR folks, or managers of stores in a large chain on board?

Asked by Jeruba (48719points) May 30th, 2009

The young person has been working part time for a store in a well-known national chain for nearly two years. He has been consistently punctual, responsible, a hard worker, and a real team player, often accepting extra shifts to cover for others.

Last week he was terminated abruptly on the basis of the store manager’s report. The store manager told him the reason was “job abandonment.” When he asked for documentation of the dismissal, he was told that there was none. He was given no paperwork of any kind, only a final paycheck. When he asked to see the report to HR that resulted in his dismissal, the manager indicated that he had it but declined to show it. The manager did not show him the text of the rule that had supposedly been broken or allude to any company policy or process regarding termination.

What had actually occurred was that after discussing with his manager (as required) a long-planned absence for a family trip, the young person forgot to actually write his name on the “unavailable for shifts” sheet for those days. The manager then proceeded to schedule him for shifts, unknown to him. He was out of state on a trip with the family. On the day of his first shift his manager phoned him to say he ought to have shown up. When questioned, the manager admitted that he recalled the conversation in which the employee gave notice of his intended absence. Nevertheless he apparently counted each scheduled shift that was missed as an absence without notice and called that justification for dismissal.

What rights does the ex-employee have in this situation, and what next steps would you advise? He does not want being fired from his first job to mar his record permanently and stand in the way of his chances for another position.

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11 Answers

YARNLADY's avatar

In California all jobs are at will; the choice of the employer, and do not require any reason for termination, unless there is a written and signed contract. I suggest he look up the employment regulations for the state he lives in, and see if there is any recourse.

He should also contact the unemployment office right away, and perhaps see a job counselor/placement officer.

Jeruba's avatar

But there may well be company policies and practices. A company should follow its own rules. A person should be entitled to know what the rules are. And aren’t there laws that entitle a person to see information about him? Someone also recently said on here that they can fire you for no reason, but they can’t fire you for the wrong reason. If he was fired on account of a falsehood, for example, isn’t there any recourse?

YARNLADY's avatar

If he wants to try to get the job back, he would most likely have to hire a lawyer, and go to court. His best bet is to get the unemployment and get another job, because of the time and effort involved. That kind of ‘justice’ takes years.

dynamicduo's avatar

I have dealt with this exact situation on both sides many times (both being a manager at a chain making the calls to people on vacation, and knowing many people who have been screwed as a result of incompetent managing), although of course it was in Canada. If the state is an at-will employment state, then there really is no legal recourse that I know of, the employee can be fired for any reason whatsoever, even if there is no documentation, just as the employee can quit for no reason. I’m not even sure if the company has to give a reason, or if they can change it later on.

It really is awful when you realize that the reason for the firing was because of incompetent managing. And it’s almost impossible to rectify this because most of the corporate chains in such places are farces and it’s all inside politics bullshit, no one wants to admit they made a mistake, nor do they want to go through the effort of rehiring them, so they take the easy way out. Again as far as I know, there are no legal requirements for a company to uphold their own policies and practices.

The best thing to try is for the kid’s parent to call up the chain a few levels, speak to a district manager or something, explain the situation, explain how the kid has a spotless record and how they really have a desire to continue their employment. If you can catch the sympathetic ear of someone up top, they’ll trickle it down and the kid will likely be back at work in no time. If the person in question here is over a certain age, maybe 18, they could call themselves and explain the situation.

Personally, I would advise seeking employment elsewhere. There will be too much tension in that workplace if they try to sue their job back. If future employers question his firing (which I don’t even think they can in some places), he can reply with “a management error”, and elaborate in a very neutral way if asked to continue. You could also consult an employment lawyer to see what they say, at worst the lawyer could cause them to change his firing to him quitting, which may be better or make explaining to other places easier.

Realistically though, I don’t see this as being too life impacting in the long term. My first job trickled off my resume quite a few years ago. But more importantly, when I did have it on my resume, the focus wasn’t on how I left, but what I did and learned while I was there, even when the place was dinky old McDonald’s. I think many companies care more about the person and their skills over a detail such as why they were terminated previously. And as long as the person can explain the situation without explicitly or negatively blaming the management, he will have no problems finding another job.

whatthefluther's avatar

It sounds like this person fell out of favor with the manager for some reason other than that for which he was ultimately dismissed. But, by not following the procedure that was known to him, he gave that manager a valid reason for terminating his employment. I’m not an HR professional but as a manager at a huge corporation, I hired, laid off and fired dozens of people and based on my knowledge and experience, I do not believe this person has any recourse. He simply did not follow the known procedure.

SirBailey's avatar

What good is recourse if there IS any? He goes back to work with the same bosses? They’ll watch him like a hawk. Five minutes late one day, it’s over.

Jeruba's avatar

Thank you all for your responses. I appreciate your thoughts. Thank you especially, @dynamicduo, for the voice of pertinent experience.

To reiterate: he is not looking to get his job back at that location. But he would like to see the report in the HR file, see the rule he is alleged to have broken, have the right to include a statement of his own as a permanent part of the file and, if possible, have the reason for leaving changed to voluntary separation. Does he not have any rights of information?

He would also like not to have his record permanently marred with respect to ever working at any location of this very large chain again. He has excellent product knowledge and skill that ought to be a means to livelihood for him now.

At one time in my career (same state) I took serious issue with the performance review my manager had given me. She was acting under constraint to fill percentages in a bell curve (why in the world do they use the bell curve this way?) and admitted openly that I I deserved better marks than she had given me. I availed myself of my known rights as an employee and placed a four-page rebuttal in my personnel file.

This manager told the young person that he was not allowed to see the report that was the basis of his firing. How can you defend yourself against secret accusations?

Right now job seeking is exceedingly difficult, and anything that registers as “off” or as potential “trouble,” even the necessity of explaining an involuntary termination, is enough to harm your chances.

YARNLADY's avatar

I don’t think there is any cause for alarm about the consequences for the next job. Most employers are so afraid of litigation they will only confirm employment dates when they receive calls from prospective employers.

cwilbur's avatar

@Jeruba: What might work is for him to write a letter explaining his grievance and what outcome he’d like to see, expressing at the end that he regrets that if this cannot come to an amicable resolution that he will be forced to involve his lawyer.

It really does sound like there’s something going on here that isn’t in the story you’re telling us—not that you’re lying or omitting information, but that there’s probably information you’re not privy to. There may have been some situation between the employee and his manager, or between the manager and a higher-level manager, that prevents the manager from saying, “oh, yeah, I do remember that conversation.”

So the thing you need to signal is that you’re willing to make their lives difficult, by involving lawyers and lawsuits, until you get satisfaction. If you can do this convincingly enough, some manager in the chain will make the decision that this problem needs to be resolved regardless of any personal enmities.

Jeruba's avatar

The manager says he does remember that conversation. He readily admitted it, both on the phone and then in person.

What I did not put in is any history between them because even though it might have a bearing on personal motivations it doesn’t alter the facts. Also I have no first-hand knowledge. But there is plenty of reason to think that this manager was looking for a pretext and that he set the employee up by saying “Call me when you get back” instead of “I’ve scheduled you for four more shifts this week and it’s up to you to try to get them covered if you aren’t going to be here.”

A letter will be written. That is the plan. Right now there’s some research to be done, and this question is part of it.

whatthefluther's avatar

@Jeruba….The only question in my mind is has the manager been consistent in applying policy directed dismissal in response to lack of adherence to a known understood procedure? If he has consistently fired employees for not signing the unavailable to work form, it doesn’t seem to me it would matter how helpful or diabolical the manager was in their conversation. Was the instruction clear to all that if you don’t complete the unavailability form, that it became their responsibility to find a replacement? If so , and I was the young man, I would have asked the boss if he had scheduled me for any additional shifts while
I was out of town and what I needed to do to avoid further discipline. I guess I was correct that the young man had fallen out of favor with the manager before this happened. I suspect the young man knew this and was also bright enough to figure out that he best start looking for a new job as soon as he fell out of favor or be prepared to toe lots of very fine lines, with a manager likely to throw obstacles his way.

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