I was given a book by a friend recently. Very interesting and entirely consistent with what I have been hearing from my lawyers. The book is You Could Be Fired for Reading This Book: Protect Your Employment Rights. I have a little bit of a problem with the phrase “Employment Rights”. You don’t have a “right” to employment. But other than that it’s a good book. Perhaps I’m nitpicking but in my case certain individuals committed a felony against me in the workplace. The employer could have investigated when they became aware of it (that email went to everyone on this list) and corrected the problem and reported the felony to Federal prosecutors. They did not. That made them a part of the crime.
Lots of things in the book were surprising to me and others I have mentioned them too. Let’s take some examples (not from the book but similar):
- Suppose one of your co-workers gets upset because you correctly predicted that their approach to a problem would fail. And to make things worse with 1/3 of the budget gone you get the project turned over to you to “go ahead and do it your way.” You then succeed and get high praise from the customer. This co-worker then tells the boss that you have been barking at the full moon and molesting small animals with shovels and rakes and implements of destruction. Your boss confronts you, you deny it, and without attempting to verify the story fires you and says it’s for dishonesty–making it difficult for you to get another job.
- Suppose you have personal website praising the wonderfulness of the Partridge Family T.V. show. You boss has a personal website praising the wonderfulness of the Brady Bunch T.V. show and thinks the Partridge Family is crap. He fires you and even tells you and your co-workers why he did it.
- Suppose your boss is married and is having a sexual affair with one of her other direct reports (not her spouse) and he is also married. This subordinate apparently likes playing the field and starts making some advances toward you. You, not knowing of the affair, mention it to your boss. Your boss makes up a reason and fires you even though her having the affair with a direct report is grounds for termination of the boss.
- Suppose your boss put in your performance goals for the next year that you must publish five papers in public research journals and contribute to one or more conferences in person. If you don’t succeed you will suffer the consequences in your next performance review. Suppose he didn’t bother to get your goals written up and delivered to you until nearly half way through the year. You question how this is going to be possible because all your current research has at least some aspect that is classified and not allowed in public journals. New projects that might be entirely unclassified won’t be available until next year. Not to mention that the projects you are involved in were budgeted without money allocated for publication of papers or attending conferences and there is very little time to write the research papers and get them published. He assures you that the unclassified parts are acceptable to put in the research papers and you should “give it your best effort” in spite of the time and money constraints. You give a few hints about coming papers on your personal blog. Your boss reads your blog and fires you for not keeping company information private and possibly violating national security.
Now, take a guess and tell me which of the above you think are grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit in the United States.
The answer in nearly all states, and particularly in Washington state, is none of the above.
Wrongful termination lawsuits are very hard to even get into court. There are a very limited number of things (for example sexual, racial, age, or religious discrimination) that will get you any traction at all. And before you can even get the case into court you have to have some evidence or testimony, other than your own, to make the case it was one of “those things”. You can’t make your co-workers (who know they would be fired if they did) testify under oath until much later in the legal proceedings. You can’t demand internal documents that might collaborate your side of things until much later either. You have to have the evidence with you the last time you went out the door–which in itself could be considered valid grounds for termination if they found it out and used that as the basis for termination. That could ruin your chances of winning in court should you get so far as to have a jury hear the case.
And even just bringing a case against a former employer can make you unemployable. Future employers will be extra cautious about hiring “a troublemaker”. In short wrongful termination cases are tough and risky. I’m doing it anyway. I have the evidence to get us into courts. My lawyer and I are nearly certain we can prove the facts. We just have to prove the law supports us. More on that after PNNL gives us their response.