What to do when your boss wants to fire you

I received this letter this week about someone who’s boss wants to fire him and asks what he can do. Here is his story:

I am 63 years old, have owned my own business for more than 20 years and was forced to take a job for a large company four years ago when the economy took a nosedive and my business became non-existent. My problem exists with my boss who I cannot please – no way; no how.

In the four years I am there, he has only given me one positive annual review with a minimum raise. He had constructive criticism for the first three years that helped me improve but since last year he has been on my back for the last 4-6 months RELENTLESSLY!

He has written me up four times; the most recent April 17, 2014 when I was also suspended without pay for 3 days. I was never given a copy of the first two letters. The third report had erroneous information that he claimed “was witnessed” yet never occurred.

This last letter/suspension cited an incident in which I believe he was to blame as well as my doing something I was never advised he didn’t want me to do. When he handed me the letter (a week after the incident for which he never advised a letter would be forthcoming) he made the remark, “I’m going to stay on your back until you either quit or I terminate you!”

The basis for his dissatisfaction is stated as unsafe behavior and repeated safety violations. For the last six months he is always watching me – comes by my work area at the end of break and lunch to make sure I return on time and always inspects all of my work before, during and after completion – looking for any kind of error. No other employee under him has to work with such scrutiny.

The day I returned from suspension I was put on a project that was difficult and complicated and required concentration. It has been slow going but so far so good. The morning of the second day he called me in to his office and reprimanded me because the “job was taking too long”! If I rush I’ll mess up…. It’s hard to work under his watchful eye, knowing he wants me to screw up!

I spoke to HR yesterday and asked for a transfer to another department and was told we would discuss it more on Tuesday after she has a chance to research the matter. I’m afraid that entails her discussion with my boss and whether or not he will approve it.

I have several questions, the first am I entitled to a copy of the first two letters of reprimand? Second, WHAT DO I DO? He is in the second tier of management and I’m afraid no one will stand up to him….. I don’t stand a chance. Third, in the two letters that I have there are discrepancies to the truth – if I try to bring that to someone’s attention, who’s going to listen? Fourth, if I don’t get the transfer, do I let them fire me or quit? Fifth, would I be entitled to unemployment compensation?

Please give me some guidance. I am at my wits end. Thank you for your time. – BB


You have found yourself in a complicated situation and you are not alone. I speak with many people who feel trapped. Let’s work down your questions one by one and see if I can find some options for you to consider.

Are you entitled to copy of your reprimands? While the obvious answer would be yes, the correct answer is it depends. If your company has an employee manual or policy that outlines the disciplinary process, it will include how write ups and warnings are handled. Get a copy of it and review it or go to HR and ask the question directly, “What is the discipline policy? What are the steps and how is it administered?” Once they tell you, if applicable, ask “What do you do when the policy is not followed?”

My suggestion, don’t get into a debate. Just get information. Decide what you want to do when you are not under pressure.

Second question, what do you do? No one can tell you what to do; you have to decide what to do yourself. The question I would be asking is…Why are you still there? Why do you feel trapped? There are many other companies to work for. Granted it might be harder to get into one or you may have to make some allowances but consider how the stress is affecting your overall quality of life. If you are there because you love the company except for this one boss, then you have lots of work to do to turn it around.

Third question about the two letters that have discrepancies – what do you do? Challenge them? I recommend people never to sign a document that is untrue or if you are under duress (hopefully you did not sign off on it). You can sign you received a copy of it. Going back to question one, if there is a discipline policy, there is often a way to contest or appeal a decision. This is the process you would use to offer your information into record.

If a clear disciplinary process does not exist, then you have to decide if fighting it is worth your energy. If it is, then write-up a response and give it to your manager and HR. Will they revise their stance? They may or may not. Based on what you have shared about your relationship with your boss, he definitely wants you out so he is probably backed into his corner squarely.

Fourth question about asking for a transfer – this is a good option and could be a win-win for you and the company as long as the relationship has not been damaged beyond repair. There is nothing to say about letting them fire you…if your boss wants to fire you, he will make it happen. Most states follow at-will employment where the employer can terminate a relationship for good or bad cause or no cause at all. There are some exceptions depending on what state you live in. The best place is to consult your local unemployment insurance office for details.

You always have the option to quit – your employer is not the trap.

Fifth question – will you be eligible for unemployment? That will depend on your state and how they handle unemployment claims. States have different definitions for discharges based on good or bad cause. Some states are lenient on providing benefits; others make distinctions based on good or bad cause. Check with your state unemployment insurance office.

  1. I have a situation where I quit my job after constant harassment ( non which meets the EEOC ) and do believe was harassed and manufactured claims because I caught on quickly and brought it to attention within the health system that we needed to address the false reporting of hospital infections to medicare and regulatory agencies. I was concerned for the infection prevention dept and the hospital as well as patients. I was very productive, improved processes, detoured an outbreak and admired by hospital departments. I was written up once due to a colleague with friends did not like my personality . I tried to transfer. My job was threatened and so I quit to avoid another write up as I planned to transfer or re apply (liked the system) just scared of the Infection control dept. The boss said that i could resign in good standing if I quit . They lied and placed me on conditional re employment . They knew I intended to reapply in another area. The system covers several counties in my area. Unemployment was denied because I quit. In essence, it was political and the boss was angry ( did not state but implied) because I would not submit false infection data and brought serious errors to light. It makes it difficult to find employment now and GA is not a right to work state. Any suggestions? Thank you

    • Arnold,

      This is a tough lesson. In any situation where there is conflict, distrust or attempts to convince someone to do something that is not your best interest, have them put their intent in writing. Asking the right questions at the right time is critical and often not easy to do when you are under stress. My advice – find a way to move on to something else, it may be hard, but the road you are on to gain re-employment is hard too.

  2. Unfortunately I face a similar situation where I am told weekly that there are complaints from unnamed students and other faculty. I am not told who has lodged complaints and I am specifically told I cannot speak to anyone about the complaints. Interestingly I had 3 stellar years until I ” blew the whistle” on my boss and he was fired. The remaining administration now has a clear agenda to write up false information to justify terminating me. My question is should I involved the employment commission or wait to see if it blows over. I cannot eat at work or sleep but am afraid if I involve an outside entity that it will make things worse. Just looking for some comments on the matter. I am desperately seeking alternate employment but am the breadwinner in my household.

    • Deb, I am sorry to hear you are in this situation with your employer. When a complaint is raised about someone, there is an investigation. HR/Management will ask the person who the complaint was logged against to refrain from talking to the other person or persons (even if they know them). The organizations wants to to hear both sides without the situation becoming further aggravated. When people are upset, dealing with conflict effectively is a challenge and often blows up into situations that are worse. Your best approach is to fully understand what the complaint is – regardless of who said what – and address that issue head on. Provide proof or examples of where those allegations can be proven wrong. You will have better results focusing on a fact based approach. Good luck!

  3. Document everything… How you are unfairly treated… How you are held to a higher standard… Document times, screenshots of other employees work if possible for comparison… Your progress at improvement and your desire to not give up… Ultimately if they end your employment and try to involuntarily terminate you based on insubordination than you have a good case to fight for receiving unemployment.. Honestly I would leave as quick as possible. These sort of warning signs don’t usually spend well

  4. I work for the FBI my Unit Chief has lied under sworn oath in testimony against me several times with easy to prove facts supporting that her claims were lies yet the administration seems to be working with her to terminate me in a series of write ups all of which are false claims. I appealed the first unprofessional conduct charge when a contractor (vendor) manager yelled at me inches from my faces pointing screaming that I was calling his employee a liar. I was recently written up for unprofessional conduct off duty (while at home) for asking six armed men to leave my property. The police came and I wasn’t charged with anything but she took it upon herself to call the police dept and to demand that I be written up by her chain of command. She has been out to fire me for several years and I even left the last unit to get away from her abuse only for her to transfer over me again. I don’t want to lose such a high paying secure job close to home but I don’t want my character to be ruined by her slander. What should I do?

    • Michael – you have a complicated situation that demands the assistance of a professional. I would engage someone to assist you – whether it is an attorney or executive coach who can help you navigate through this situation and help you decide what is important to you.

  5. This could be age discr6. Document everything . Tell your employer in writing that you think this is age discrimination. Go to the EEOC fast.

  6. I worked for the State of Indiana. I was being let go. I was given the option to resign in good standing. I didn’t agree with the separation and had considered fighting it, but I conceded to leave in good standing, so that I could look for employment elsewhere within the state. In this last meeting, I was told by the regional manager no less than three times I was leaving in good standing. We even discussed the opening in another department for which I would be applying. I asked her if it was possible. She stated “yes, no problem at all”. I was told to write the letter (effective immediately) and turn it in then make out my time card. It is now two weeks later and I have discovered (on my own) that my status is not “good standing” as I was told, it is “do not rehire”. I spoke to the person in HR from that department. She told me that she became involved after I was gone and that she was aware of what the regional manager told me. She then stated that a meeting took place after I was gone and it was decided by herself, the (same) regional manager and another that my status would be “do not rehire”. I find this unacceptable. I am 4 1/2 years from pension. In addition, it looks terrible on my work record. I was looking to work in another department within the state. The HR person said my only options were to file a civil service complaint (which is for employees) or to talk to her supervisor. I have called her supervisor, but have not received a return call. I am not looking to get my job back as I feel it would be a hostile environment. However, I do wish my status to be “in good standing” as I was promised. What are my options?

    • Sheryl,

      I am sorry this happened to you. Unfortunately, managers do not always have the last say on how their employees leave the organization. In any of these situations where agreements are being made they should always be in writing so that there is no misunderstanding. Unless your “do not hire” status is changed, there is very little opportunity for you to finish out your years for pension.

  7. Being harrassed at work by co workers. Was told to let the supervisor know but they all stick together. The issue is over tips i guess. Im a valet driver. We supposed to have a set structure or some form of order. We dont. I also notice co workers stealing jumping in front of me when its my turn to return the guest veichle and possibly recieve a top. The job to easy and for the most part i like it. Now this has happen twice to me in separate locations. Yes i transferd atleast once expecting to get treated fair. Well i guess i had high hopes. To make a long story short thos job obviously has some curruption. Im fairly kinda of new and am not making good with only some of the popular co workers. Just wanna ask do i stand a chance. Because im pretty sure after talking to one of the head managers they’re trying to get me to quit are simply get me fired.

  8. the comment he made definately falls under work place bullying and harassment.
    yes you should go to hr. ask for a meeting one on one with hr and a follow up.
    at the same time go to whatever wcb or workplace thing you have that is not comnected to your company and file a claim of bullying and harassment.
    hr in my experience doesn’t give two shits about the employees, they only do what they must to keep the company protected, not the workers. so they often get rid of the problem by getting rid of the lower ranking worker.
    but still make the complaints and do it in writting. document. document. document. make a copy for yourself and one for them. if you feel hr isn’t doing anything then go to sn exsternal source like wcb and labour board and go to your hr managers boss.
    you will likely still lose but at least you tried.
    im in the same boat right now.

  9. I think my manager either wants me to quit, or will fire me. There was a situation recently where I had overlooked something on item that I was to review (I was the second person to review it and miss it, not including the person who made the error). No check went out because a third person caught the error. I had apologized when contacted by her and even developed a checklist for future reviews. But she calls me a couple of weeks later and tells me that I am being given a verbal warning (for one mistake in two years). She then emails me and copies HR with that same information.

    Cut to several months in the future and I am copied on an email regarding another mistake. Only this time, I didn’t do the review. And apparently all three people reviewing the item missed the mistake. An over $20,000 mistake. However on this email, my manager is blaming the analyst who made the initial mistake, and not the three reviewers who missed the mistake and let it go out the door. I owned up to making my mistake, but how is this right? The fact that I am being treated differently is obvious. The only thing I can think of is this – the COO who wanted me to work there, as well as the analyst who made this mistake, is being let go and I think that the manager wants to get rid of me and the analyst since she probably didn’t want to hire us anyway.

    In the past year I wrote several processing guidelines and was going to mention them in my review. Well, I have yet to have a review and of this date, it is 3 months past due. The error I made was after what should have been my review date. I don’t know if I should say anything? I feel as if I was set up to fail. I was supposed to go to the home office for two weeks of training when I was hired – that never happened and I was ‘trained’ over the phone. I am resigned to look for another job because I don’t trust that I am or will be treated fairly.