Rock and a hard place
About a year ago I left a large non-profit organization where I had worked for seven great years. When the pandemic hit, we lost a lot of funding and I had to split my time between three different teams (and three different bosses) and take on work that didn’t really interest me. I left because I found a job in a similar organization, playing one role instead of three. The new job had a lot of upside – great co-workers, strong mentorship, professional development around skills I’ve wanted to work on for a long time. However, the workload is totally unsustainable. I told my boss about it several times, and he said there was no money to hire someone else and he couldn’t change the job description due to larger organizational bureaucracy.
In January, a full-time job opened up at my old organization with a workload that was half of my current load, plus a slightly higher salary. I applied and was offered the job. Seems perfect, except for one thing: a boss I can’t stand. I’ve worked with him before, and he was barely tolerable when I only spent a third of my time on this team. I find him sexist, full of bravado and 15 years behind in his reflection on our field. He makes decisions that are detrimental to customers. Is it worth taking this job where I’m going to be frustrated with my boss every day, and where I think the organization is going in the wrong direction, if it means getting my nights and weekends back? ends?
One of the most unpleasant aspects of capitalism is having to choose between equally shitty career options. What do you value more – a good boss and work environment but intense workload or a terrible boss and reasonable workload? Downtime is incredibly important. It’s hard to maintain excellent performance at work if you never have the opportunity to recharge your batteries, spend time with loved ones, and pursue your personal interests. At the same time, how much will you enjoy that downtime if you’re constantly aggravated by a terrible boss? Have you considered a third option – a position at an entirely different company?
Email crimes and misdemeanors
I was recently fired by my company because I added “non desinetis vapulare donec animi vobis fuerint refecti” to the bottom of my email signature line. It’s Latin for, essentially, “You won’t stop being beaten until your spirit picks up” or a less literal translation of “the whippings will continue until morale improves.” “. It’s a phrase I saw on a T-shirt in Key West. It had been in my signature line for 10 months, and frankly, I had forgotten about it.
The new human resources director told me that this did not reflect the brand of the company well. I told the HR manager that I would remove him, apologize for any infraction, but that I thought it was not an infraction that should rise to the level of dismissal. I could understand a reprimand. I would accept a personal improvement plan. He said it was a business decision and nothing more. There is no policy or procedure on how to create an email signature line. I received a glowing review and rose in January with all areas as meeting or exceeding expectations.
In discussions with colleagues after the dismissal, we believe that other things were brewing since, two months earlier, the management team had been replaced. My immediate supervisor resigned unexpectedly three weeks before my dismissal. Before leaving, he hinted that layoffs could be imminent.
My question is, is this a dismissalable offence? Or was it an excuse to cut staff and costs so they could cut my salary and not have to pay severance? Do I have legal recourse? I know employment is at will in my state. I’m 63, so I’m also wondering if there was an age bias that led to the dismissal.
When you are employed in an at-will state, anything can be a dismissable offense as long as the dismissal is not based on discrimination. Your employer didn’t need an excuse. That said, it’s pretty weird to be fired for an email signature, especially when you’ve recently received rave reviews and a raise. Unless the brand has bad morale, how could someone’s email signature undermine the brand? To be fired for a single minor infraction that isn’t particularly offensive is overkill, at best.
I don’t know how business leaders can possibly justify this without a behavioral model. If they were planning layoffs and looking to cut costs, yes, they may have done so to avoid paying you severance, which is deeply unfair. I would consult an employment lawyer to see what your options are. Something is seriously wrong here.
Roxane Gay is the most recent author of “Hunger” and an opinion writer. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.