“I resigned for fear of my boss; can I withdraw it?”

Question: I have worked as a library assistant in a small county library for four years. Over recent years, five library assistants have resigned due to the violent behavior of our Manager.

The Manager flings books, telephones, staplers, etc., across the room, curses and screams when she is angry, and berates patrons and their children. Her appearance is frightening: extremely skinny, hair thinning, teeth gray, and the most agitated and hyperactive person I’ve ever seen. She looks just like someone on methamphetamines. Despite complaints from employees, patrons and others, the Head Librarian has done nothing. She just says “We all need to live together.”

Finally the County Administrator called a meeting with the Head Librarian, the library assistants and our Manager. Our Manager stormed out in a rage, claiming that she had bugs crawling all over her. The Head Librarian then showed us an email in which our Manager had said that, if she was ever forced to resign, she would “go out in a blaze of glory and punctuate her resignation with a shotgun.” At that moment, faced with having to work alongside our Manager, alone, for the rest of the five-hour shift, I resigned.

The next day the Head Librarian called me and asked me to come back. She explained that our Manager had been escorted out by the police, and ordered not to come back. Many patrons have called and written asking that I come back. I would like to come back, but the County Administrator refuses to let me do that, claiming that “The matter is over.” I wrote to the County Administrator, with copies to the Board of Supervisors, that the only reason I resigned was out of fear for my safety, but got no response.

Is there any way I can withdraw my resignation? I’d love to go back to my job.

Gordonsville, Virginia

Answer: Dear Lydia: I am so very sorry to hear of your frightening experience at work, and the seeming unreasonableness of the County Administrator. Here are a few thoughts I have that might – and I hope will – be helpful:
a. As a public employee, you may have “special protections” – in civil service law or elsewhere – in this context. In many states and localities, public employees enjoy certain extra employment-related rights specified in law, including (a) a right to appeal employment-related decisions, (b) hearings before a judge on issues of claimed unfairness, and (c) multiple levels of reviews of decisions made about their employment. These “special protections” are based in the common understanding that being a public servant has special difficulties associated with it. As a county employee, you may have valuable rights of which you are unaware, and which could be of great use to you now.

b. As a public employee, politics – good and bad – can come into play at work. It is possible that the County Administrator is playing a game of “politics” with your job; for example, a friend of his or hers, or the child of a political contributor in your area, might need a job. It is also possible that the County Administrator would consider changing his or her mind if a petition signed by 500 people asking for your return was sent to the Board of Supervisors. Likewise, a newspaper article could pressure him or her to change course. I encourage you to consider contacting people, or reporters, to see if this is a way “back in” for you. 
c. You may have a legal right to “nullify” the step you took under such duress. In most states, people have a legal right to bring a claim into court that a step they have taken – such as paying money, signing an agreement, or making some legal commitment   should be declared “nullified” because it was taken under extreme duress or coercion. It sounds to me that working alongside someone who is communicating she might settle scores with a shotgun would qualify as “extreme duress” for resigning, in order to avoid potential death. 

d. You may also be able to raise the notion of a suit for “negligent supervision” or “negligent retention.” My quick review of Virginia law indicates that some Virginia courts, but not most, recognize legal claims called “negligent supervision” and “negligent retention.” The idea is this: your employer – the County, and most specifically the County Administrator – were negligent in their own duty to the public and their employees to take care of the obviously dangerous situation at your library, and for this reason are responsible for your job loss. Though it is admittedly “creative,” it just might be taken seriously if contained in a letter from a local lawyer.

e. I suggest you consider a consultation with a local attorney. To my mind, you have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, from speaking with a local attorney who is experienced in “employee-side” employment law. At the very least, you would have someone with local experience give you a qualified opinion on your predicament, and even my ideas noted above. It’s not wise to always “run” to lawyers, but it is often wise to ask their opinions of difficult situations such as yours. 

If you would like to obtain a list of five experienced employment attorneys in Richmond, Virginia, near where you live, [click here].

It seems to me that what happened to you is so very unfair, and that with perseverance and creativity, there just has to be a solution. I hope these ideas lead you to the solution that best suits you. Please do not give up; we’re all behind you! 

Thanks for writing in. 

Best, Al Sklover

© 2011 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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