Question: Four months ago, I involuntarily resigned from my former job because I was about to be terminated after a dishonest Performance Review. I felt that my manager and HR both schemed, by all of a sudden lowering my performance review, in order to lower the number of employees, without paying any severance. I even lost my quarterly commissions. It was literally making me sick, but I decided that resigning was safer and more principled thing to do. Since then, I have gotten a new job, but it pays $20,000 a year less.
What happened to me still bothers me. It wasn’t right, I saw no other way out, and I have the feeling, deep inside, that they “got away with it.” Is there anything I can do to get at least some kind of satisfaction?
Answer: Dear Terri: This is not the first time I’ve received almost this exact question. No doubt a lot of people have felt the way you feel. There are several possible paths to “satisfaction,” depending on what “satisfaction” means to you. Here are my thoughts:
1. First, I hope you view getting yourself out of a bad situation to be, in itself, a reason for some satisfaction. I don’t mean to minimize what you’ve been through, or how unfair and difficult it no doubt has been. That said, I hope you share my view that your getting away from people who were acting dishonestly, uncaringly and with a degree of evil intent was, itself, a reason to rejoice. “Let them have each other,” is what I say. Or, as the old saying goes, “Living well is the best revenge.”
2. Be frank with yourself: Is it “satisfaction” you seek or might it be more accurately labeled “revenge” or even “money?” All of us at times feel the desire for revenge, especially when we feel we’ve been mistreated. However, most of us don’t act on that urge. Sometimes the feeling is quite, quite strong. Be aware, though, that it is a feeling that seems to promise satisfaction, but rarely does. More often, it keeps you “engaged” in the battle, takes away from your enjoying you family, new job and life, with little in return.
The late comedian Buddy Hackett used to say, “Don’t hold a grudge, because while you are sitting at home thinking about it, the other guy is out dancing.” I think there is a lot of truth to that. “Grudge” is something of a negative word, and a negative feeling, and continued negativity rarely ends positively.
If it is a grudge you hold, the only real way to get over that is to “drop it, and, as Buddy Hackett observed, “Get up and go out dancing.” Keep yourself busy. Think instead about, and be thankful for, all of the blessings in your life.
If by “satisfaction” you mean “getting paid” or addressing the underlying problem, then just read on.
By the way, if you are being asked to repay your former employer (a) tuition reimbursement, (b) relocation expenses, (c) a sign-on bonus, or even (d) a short-term loan, you may not have to. We offer a Model Letter for Repayment Obligation Forgiveness – with 18 Great Reasons, just [click here.] “What to Say, and How to Say It.™ – Delivered by Email – Instantly!
3. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by writing to your former employer’s CEO and/or the members of its Board of Directors, no matter what your concern or complaint is about. To my mind, this is your first course of action, because it is direct, it may result in getting some sort of resolution, and is what most people would suggest is the “right thing” to do. If you don’t try this first, many people would ask “Why not?” (and I’d be one of them.) It might also get your manager and Human Resources placed “under the microscope,” which might just put a halt to their treating others the way they treated you.
If you do choose to write a letter to senior management or the Board, make sure it is respectful, and lists what it is you want them to do. Disrespectful letters get less attention, and unless you tell a person what you want from them, it is nearly impossible for them to guess what that is. A pointer here: your letter should be sent by what we call “verifiable means,” that is, email, federal express or UPS, Certified Mail, or hand-delivery.
4. If you believe what happened to you was a result of illegal discrimination (or retaliation concerning your report of discrimination), you have every legal right to file a Charge of Discrimination to an appropriate civil rights agency. If you believe that the motivation for what happened to you was your age, race, gender, disability, religion, national origin, pregnancy, or other “protected category,” you have every right to file a complaint with a city, state or federal agency whose job it is to investigate such complaints. The identity and contact information for your local rights agency, as well as their procedures, can fairly easily be found on the internet.
5. If you were denied some kind of “wages,” meaning “payment for services” – such as earned overtime, commissions, days of salary, or earned-but-unused vacation – you may be wise to file a formal complaint with your State Labor Board (or equivalent name.) Almost every state has its own state agency that helps employees collect unpaid “wages.” However each particular state defines “wages” in slightly different ways.
On the internet it is usually quite easy to (a) identify your state’s labor board (or similar name), (b) determine whether what you were denied is considered to be a kind of “wage,” and (c) what the procedure is to file a formal complaint seeking their help.
It is almost always the case that (a) there is no fee for filing such a complaint, (b) you do not need to hire an attorney to do so, (c) the process is slow, but (d) having a government on your side can be a very good thing.
Monies due you (commissions, bonus, wages, expenses, etc.) owed you by former employer? After leaving, you are free to make your “demand.” We offer a Model Letter Requesting Monies Due You by a Former Employer. Shows you “What to Say, and How to Say It.”™ To obtain your copy, just [click here.] Delivered By Email – Instantly!
6. If you ended up losing out on any monies you deserve that are not “wages,” you still have every right to bring that issue to your local “Small Claims” court. While “labor boards” assist only in collection of “wages,” Small Claims courts assist in the resolution of any kind of financial dispute. “Non-wage” claims might include, as examples, (a) expense reimbursements not made to you, (b) claims based on benefits not provided to you, and (c) claims based on wrongly forfeited stock or other forms of “equity.”
If so, don’t be shy about bringing it to a local Small Claims (sometimes called “Common Pleas” court. In many states, corporations are required to send an attorney to represent it, and if that is the case, your employer may just “pay up” instead.
7. If you believe your former employer has violated state or federal regulations, you might consider filing a report with the applicable regulatory body. Former employer dumping toxic waste in ground water? Denying employees monies they deserve? Perhaps deceiving customers? Maybe lying to public investors?
In any of these four examples, agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”), the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”), the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”), and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission ( “SEC”) might be interested in the facts of the matter.
Might taking this route be a kind of “revenge” discussed above? Well, perhaps “Yes” and perhaps “No,” depending on your true inner motivation. I will be the first to admit that it is often quite difficult for most of us to discern our true motivations. We all have a way of “convincing” ourselves of our being “right” and virtuous when we are hurt by another. This is a choice for you to make, based on your own confidence of your true motivation.
Difficulty explaining why you left your former job? Get our 50 Great Reasons to Explain Your Last Job Departure. For job applications, interviews and recruiters. Each is a substantive reason that anyone can understand, and few would question. A great list. Just [click here.] Delivered By Email – Instantly!
8. There are websites designed for employees and former employees to share and vent their employer-related feelings with others. While I do not necessarily endorse any of these websites, the internet is full of sites designed to help former employees vent and share their employment-related frustrations. I do not know how much “satisfaction” they might provide, but considering that many people do post on them, they must be doing something for people. Just enter words like “Complain about my former job” into Google or another search engine, and you will find many of them.
9. One final thought: In anything you decide to do, might you be unnecessarily “burning a bridge?” Though it might seem quite unlikely to you now, one day you may just want to work again for your former employer, or seek a position at a different company where your former manager is employed, or even request a positive reference from the people you are right now upset with. If that were to happen – and the strangest things in life do happen – you just might wish that you hadn’t sought “satisfaction.”
Couples who go through difficult divorces sometimes, years later, remarry. Politicians who denounce each other in the harshest of terms sometimes later endorse one another. Even the U.S., who defeated Japan and Germany in World War II, ended up being their strongest allies. Yes, a similar thing could happen to you. It’s worth considering.
Terri, thanks for your interesting question, and one that I believe more people think about than are willing to admit it. Whatever you decide to do, do with with Working Wisdom. I hope this proves to be a helpful guide in moving forward.
P.S.: If you would like to speak directly about this or other subjects, Mr. Sklover is available for 30-minute, 60-minute, or 120-minute telephone consultations, just [click here.] Evenings and weekends can often be accommodated.
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