OD Chatter: Is This A Wrongful Termination?

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Dear OD Chatter,

I believe I was recently wrongfully terminated from my job last Thursday. I was terminated/laid off due to ‘company restructuring’.

For weeks there has been a post on my company’s website for my old position but we were told that they were expanding the department and not to worry. Today, I found out that they hired a new person for my exact old job with the same job title I previously had.

On top of that, I am a white female (age 26) and he is an Indian male. This man (age 25) previously worked at this company and was laid off in April.

In June I was given a new boss (age 26), at first it seemed like he liked me but as time went on I noticed, and so did several other coworkers, that he seemed a lot harder on me than them. Picking on me for having the “messy” desk because I kept a note book on it, a picture of myself and my brother, and had a wall calendar. I would laugh this off but I noticed he never said anything to anyone else.

To me it seems odd that they were supposedly eliminating/changing/restructuring my position yet this new person started 2 days later with my old job title. Is this legal? The offered me a weeks severance but I feel like what they did isn’t legal. I’m not sure what to do.

Regards, Short-end of the Stick

Dear Short-end of the Stick,

I can feel the pain in your question and I know that it isn’t easy to be in this position.  The loss of a job can a painful experience and can cause a great deal of anxiety.  You mention that you were wrongfully terminated and I want to start by explaining what ‘wrongful termination’ means.

A wrongful termination is one of two things, it is a termination based upon a discriminatory reason or it is a breach of one or more clauses in an employment contract.  (www.eeoc.gov) Nothing in your question points to blatant discrimination.

Pennsylvania, like many states, is an ‘at will’ employment state.  This means that the employer does not have to provide a reason for termination.  Likewise, employees hold the same rights and do not have to give a reason why they are resigning.

This does not mean that reasons are never shared, quite to the contrary.  An open dialog is a helpful tool in making positive changes inside the organization as well as for the individual.  However, the reasons behind corporate restructuring are too numerous to list and for small companies there is not a legal requirement to disclose their reasons.  Large organizations may fall under the WARN Act (https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/termination/plantclosings) requirements for notification but in this case, that does not apply.

You mention that you received a severance payment and most severance payments typically hinge upon you signing an agreement of sorts.  The details (or clauses) of that agreement may disclose more about why the termination happened.  I would read it carefully.

Looking forward, I encourage you to use this time wisely, after all, you can’t change the past but you can learn from it as you move forward.

Use what you liked and did not like about your last employer as you interview for your next job.  Interview your potential employer as strongly as they interview you.

Research their reputation on websites like Glassdoor or Vault and leverage your connections with friends for information.  Be prepared that some recruiters do not enjoy being interviewed but you owe it to yourself to find a culture that fits your personal values.

To sum it up: you may not have done anything wrong but ended up being pushed out of the organization anyway.  They didn’t value you, so it is time to find an organization that does!

Use your time wisely and consider training opportunities that build you and prepare you for your next position.  Seek training for a new skill, new knowledge, or seek to develop your personal leadership style.  The key is to use this time to your advantage.

Thanks for sending OD Chatter your workplace question.

OD Chatter

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OD Chatter (www.odchatter.com) is written by Debra Dee Bradford, CHRO of ODL Business Partners, Inc. (www.odlbp.com) an HR consulting firm specializing in organizational development and leadership training. To reach Debra, submit questions, or make comments please email dbradford@odlbp.com.

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