Question: I left my job three weeks ago due to a hostile workplace. I emailed HR and spoke to my boss about what happened. I was told he would call me back, and let me know something. I then waited two weeks and no word came from my employer, so I filed for unemployment.

Now my employer wants to speak to me. What do I do? Why is he trying to contact me three weeks later?

Lansing, Michigan

Answer: From my experience in these matters, I believe you now probably represent some sort of risk to your boss, or to your employer. Otherwise, they probably would not be calling you. I can think of three (3) reasons your boss may want to talk with you:

A. Possible Unemployment Hearing: If when you applied for unemployment insurance, you wrote that you left due to a hostile workplace, and possibly even mentioned your boss’s name, your employer is in a “pickle”: If they don’t contest your unemployment claim, it could be used as an “admission” of the hostile workplace, and you could use this if you later sue them. Alternatively, if they contest your unemployment application, and you win at an Unemployment Hearing, that is, if the Hearing Officer decides that there was, in fact, a hostile workplace, that “official decision” is highly favorable to you if you decide later to go to court. For this reason, your employer may be looking for a way out of the “pickle” they find themselves in.

B. A Different Kind of Risk has Arisen: If not an Unemployment Hearing, a different type of risk may have arisen. Perhaps another person has already sued them, and they are afraid you will be a good witness in that lawsuit. Perhaps your boss has been so hostile he has been told “One more time and you are out of here,” or some such thing. Perhaps they know that a large business deal could be jeopardized if a lawsuit arose. (These are nothing but speculation.)

C. They Want to Offer You Severance: If your employer finds itself in the “pickle” I described above, or facing a different kind of risk, they might want to “buy” themselves out of that “pickle,” new risk or lawsuit by offering you a severance package which is, as severance nearly always is, tied to a release of all claims and confidentiality agreement you have to sign to collect the severance.

I strongly suggest you let your former employer speak with you, to find out what it is they want, but that you take certain precautions to protect yourself in the process. Why don’t you send your boss and HR an email and write words such as “Hello. I understand you want to speak with me. So that I can be prepared, would you mind telling me what it is you want to speak about? Also, I would be much more comfortable to have my good friend, Mary, on the telephone with me, for support. Are these all right with you? Please let me know. If yes, I can speak with you on Monday, at 2:00 pm” or words to that effect.

In any telephone call you might have, there are four “rules” to follow: (1) do not allow anyone to be hostile to you; if so, excuse yourself, and end the call; (2) make no commitments to anything they say, ask or propose; (3) show no emotion of any kind; and (4) gather “data” by listening, taking notes, and asking questions.

Do not discuss your application for unemployment, as this could be a trap to gather information about it to use against you. Also do not discuss your job hunting, or your job prospects; that’s none of their business, and could result in their interfering with your job search. Just listen, ask questions, and gather data.

In this way, you can simultaneously (i) find out if there is something positive for you in what your former employer wants to talk about; (ii) protect yourself from being tricked into saying or doing anything against your interests; and (iii) have a witness regarding what happened, so there is no “she said/he said” after the conversation.

It’s my hunch that you may be offered a severance or settlement package that just might be a good thing for you. If so, why not take the call? If it turns out to be anything that seems negative in any way, just end it. The way I see it, as long as you are careful, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Hope this is helpful. Good luck to you.

Best, Al Sklover

© 2009 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.