Published on May 30th, 2008 by Alan L Sklover
Question: I was put on administrative leave while I was being investigated for “supposed” misconduct. After being harassed and disrespected, I decided to resign from my position effective immediately. I sent an email with my resignation to my supervisor, and asked her to acknowledge her receipt. She did acknowledge receipt by a return email and told me she would contact me to arrange my pick up of my belongings.
Exactly one week after that, my employer called me and told me that he was terminating me “with cause” effective two weeks ago,” that is, one week before I resigned. My question is this: is this legal?
Social Worker in Distress, Boston, MA
Answer: It really all depends on what you mean by “fired.”
From a “legal” perspective, you have asked three different questions: (a) Can an employer FIRE someone who no longer works for the employer? (b) Can an employer TREAT an employee who has resigned as if that employee had been fired? (c) Can an employer be held ACCOUNTABLE for telling someone you were fired?
(a) First, an employer can’t fire someone who no longer works for them. Once an employer receives notice of resignation which is effective immediately, the employment relation no longer exists. Excuse the analogy, but it’s like “killing a person who is already dead”; it’s just not possible, factually or legally.” So the answer to question number 1 is “No.”
(b) Second, for its own purposes, and in its own records, an employer can consider an employee “fired” and not “resigned.” That’s its prerogative. But can that employer deny you your last two week’s pay, or deny you health insurance coverage for that time? The answer to this question is “Probably not”, but this is not definite, or as some say “black and white.” If you are being denied any payment or benefits in this way, I suggest you contact your local State Department of Labor, and/or an experienced local employment attorney.
(c) Third, can an employer be held accountable for telling others you were “fired” when, in fact, you resigned a week earlier? The answer is “Yes,” as that would be factually false, and damaging to your professional reputation, which is your most valuable career asset. I strongly suggest you write a respectful letter to the owner and your supervisor telling them that telling others that you were “fired” would be false and damaging, and that they would be liable to you for any loss of income or reputation. You might be wise to send it by both email and by Fedex.
Sorry to be so long-winded about answering your question, but it’s both a bit complicated, and to my mind quite interesting. I strongly suggest you consult with a local attorney experienced in employment law; if you don’t want to, please consider sending a respectful letter yourself, as indicated above, reminding your former employer that you have rights, you know your rights, and you won’t hesitate to protect them. [Let us know if you need a referral to local attorney.]
Truly hope this alleviates at least some of your distress.
Best, Al Sklover
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