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Zachary
Zachary, Lawyer
Category: Employment Law
Satisfied Customers: 3818
Experience:  Contracts, Wrongful termination and discrimination
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Hi, My question has to do with whether I am being wrongfully

Resolved Question:

Hi,

My question has to do with whether I am being wrongfully dismissed and whether I would qualify for unemployment insurance in Massachusetts.

I have been working at a lab for 3 months and felt harassed by a co-worker. I documented everything and had a couple of meetings with the CEO and Director of Operations to see if the situation could be resolved. The co-worker in question was incapable of change. At that time a scientist from another group noticed the situation and approached me about joining her group. There were some emails and meetings back and forth between her and the CEO (I saw one of the emails) and it was mentioned that I would be joining her group 3 days a week after the personnel in my group came back from vacation. While they were on vacation I ran the department myself and was commended by the CEO for my performance.
Just before the personnel came back from vacation the CEO and his witness, the Director of Operations came to see me and said that he had no idea that I was going to transfer to the other group and that I would need to stay in my current group. I was upset and said that there was emails and talks between him and the other leader and that I did not want to stay in my current group full-time. I would like to mention that the job was not how they described it would be, it was much more menial than I expected.
The next day the CEO called a meeting with the other group leader, my group leader, the director of operations and started off by saying I could do a trial period of working two days a week for two weeks in the other group and if I didn't like it I could come back to my current group. Then a discussion of my working in the new group ensued and I was enthusiastic and said it would work out. The CEO didn't like that and abruptly said, "well if it doesn't work out in the new group then you don't want to come back to your current group right?" I said "yes, it'll work out". Then he said, "If it doesn't work out, we will help you find a new position" I didn't say anything.
I would like to say I felt a bit coerced into saying that it would work out in the new group because I didn't want to give the impression to the new group leader that I wasn't serious about joining her group.
Well after a week, the CEO called me into his office with the Director of Operations there and said "she said it won't work out", and he said
"I can't think of how to fix this because you don't want to stay in your current group, unless you can think of something" I was stunned and I shook my head and said "no" He said well you can stay until August 9 and I'll write you a letter saying you did a good job here.
I spoke to the new group leader to find out what happened and she told me she had decided it wouldn't work out because she needed somebody full time and she didn't need me on the days I was assigned to her because she had somebody else and it had nothing to do with me.
I've been working since then and looking for a job.
Today the CEO showed me the letter saying that I was a good employee. And he gave me another letter which he wanted me to sign. I said I would have to think about it and he took the letter of recommendation away from me. The letter he wanted me to sign says that we have an amicable separation and that I communicated that full time work in my current group was not acceptable. The letter said there was no other position for me in the company so they have to let me go. That is not true. The woman in the new group is in the process of hiring a full time person and she recently interviewed a candidate from Florida. I told her "why don't you hire me?" I can do the job. She said she would approach the CEO. She told me she approached the CEO this past Monday about me working in her group full time and he told her no, he wants me out. Her advice to me was that I should leave. If I stay he would work on getting me out, that's the way he is.

Back to my questions. Do I have a strong case for wrongful dismissal? Would it be worth it for me to pursue this financially? The job market is really tough right now and I don't know when I'll find another job. It took me 9 months to find this one. My other question is would I qualify for unemployment insurance in Massachusetts? I have worked at that company for 3 months and my salary was $65,000/year.

Thanks,
Michelle
Submitted: 11 months ago.
Category: Employment Law
Expert:  Zachary replied 11 months ago.
Hi,

Thank you very much for your question. I'm very sorry to hear about this situation.

Let me start by asking you whether or not you have a written employment contract which guarantees that you may only be terminated for just cause?
Customer: replied 11 months ago.

No. I don't have any written employment contract.

Expert:  Zachary replied 11 months ago.
Here's what I don't understand. They came to you and said that you would not get to keep you job in the new group, but that you could go back to the old group you were working at, and you said no. Why did you say no?

Do you not believe that you are thus voluntarily leaving the company if they offered you the position which you were working at previously for the same amount of pay, and you are saying no?
Customer: replied 11 months ago.

I don't know why I said No. Unfortunately I think it may have been out of pride. But I do know that working with this co-worker full time would be difficult.


 


During that meeting I did not get the impression that I was being offered my position in the old group. It felt like they had already decided to let me go. Because that very morning in the kitchen, the Director of Operations came in and told me that the CEO wanted to see me and that I should see him at the end of the day so it wouldn't interfere with my performance of the experiments. Right away the thought that I was going to be let go came into my head.


 


At one point during the meeting with the CEO, he said to the Director of Operations that sometimes personalities don't get along - meaning me and the co-worker.


 


And I spoke to my direct supervisor a couple of days to ask why I was being let go because I said I wasn't really clear on the reason. He said because me and the co-worker couldn't get along. It was nobody's fault but he couldn't forsee success of the department if relations were bad between me and the co-worker.


 


I never felt that I was being offered my old position back. I felt that they wanted to get rid of me.


 


 

Expert:  Zachary replied 11 months ago.
Thank you for your response.

I think the best thing here is to start with an explanation of the law in this area and then discuss your case in particular. In Massachusetts, and throughout the United States, employment law heavily favors the employer in most situations. Unless the employee has a contract which provides that the employee may only be terminated for cause, the law will hold that the employee's right to work falls under the At Will Doctrine. The At Will Doctrine provides that an employer may terminate an employee for any reason whatsoever, even if it is a false reason. The only limitation on this is that an employer may not terminate an employee because of discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, military status, national origin, disability, age, or ancestry of the employee.

In your case, without an employment contract, you are an At-Will employee and this means that under these circumstances, you do not have a wrongful termination claim.

Further, you are only entitled to unemployment in situations where you are not voluntarily resigning your position. If you sign the letter they are asking you to sign in exchange for the letter of recommendation, you will be shooting your unemployment claim in the foot and will likely be found to be disqualified.

They have you bent over a barrel here it seems, and it does not seem fair. But the law is going to favor the employer here in their decision to let you go, and there is no requirement that they have to give you a letter of recommendation.
Customer: replied 11 months ago.

Thanks for your thoughtful answer. I found it strange that they would ask me to sign that letter but perhaps it's because they don't want to pay me unemployment. Would you know whether I can claim unemployment if I've only worked for three months? And if the employer contests my claim would I have a good chance of winning?

Expert:  Zachary replied 11 months ago.
In Massachusetts, its not about how long you have worked with a single employer, but how much money you have earned from qualifying employers during the last base period. The maximum benefit you may receive is $674 per week. If you have earned at least $20,220 from Massachusetts employers in the previous year (your "base period"), then you are entitled to receive the maximum benefit. It sounds to me that this year, you did not work for 9 months and then worked at this job for 3 months, earning approximately $5,416 per month before taxes. That means that you have earned approximately $16,250 during your base period. This would equate to a maximum benefit of approximately $541.00 per week.

If the employer contests, the fact that you turned down the original position you were in will not weigh in your favor. The letter of the law says that you cannot voluntarily turn down work.

Because you are still employed there, I think it would be wise to send the CEO and the Director an email stating something like "I understand that my termination date for my current role is coming up. I just wanted to convey my willingness to work in any open position for which I am qualified in the company with a pay scale equal to my current pay." If you send this email, you are covering your bases as to not turning down work.

This strategy will improve your likelihood of winning a contested unemployment benefit hearing.

Please let me know if you have any further questions. Please also kindly consider rating my answer positively so that I am compensated by the website for my work on your question. Rating positively does not cause an additional charge and does not prevent us from further discussing your questions.

Best Regards,
ZDN
Zachary, Lawyer
Category: Employment Law
Satisfied Customers: 3818
Experience: Contracts, Wrongful termination and discrimination
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