Returning Company Property After Being Fired

Hello Lynn,

Myself and other former employees are hoping to commence a class action wrongful dismissal suit against our former employer. One of the former employees still has the company laptop, but he never signed anything, nothing in the contract making any reference to company property.

4121207_sI am not suggesting that he should keep it, but the company failed to pay him all his pay due to him and issue him an ROE (Record of Employment).

In Canada the ESA (Employment Standards Act) stipulates that an employee must receive any money (pay) due as well as an ROE within 48 hours of the last day worked.

My question is can he hang on to the laptop until they comply with the ESA and give him his correct pay and Record of Employment.

Reader from Canada

While I am not familiar with the ins and outs of Canada employment law, I do believe I can address the question raised from this reader – bear in mind I am working from an U.S.A. perspective though conceptually my opinions are probably sound.

When an employee is terminated from any company, there is an expectation that all company property will be returned. If it is not, the company has the right to withhold monies for the company property from the employee’s last paycheck or to seek legal action for retrieval.

I am not sure how your friend was let go – sometimes we are brutal in how we do things here in the U.S. One colleague was met at the airport before boarding a flight by his boss and was fired on the spot. They took his phone, laptop and keys to his company car and told him to figure out how to get back home.

He was in sales and the company’s intent was to confiscate all customer information and ensure that it did not go with him.

In our court system sometimes the burden of proof can be argued on what would a reasonable person do or think. In the event there was no paper trail or documentation about the company laptop, would the average person believe it belonged to the company or to themselves? I think you know the answer to that question.

So, if the ex-employee continues to hang onto the computer, can the company now imply that the ex-employee is trying to steal company property or worse yet – customer or confidential information? How could that affect the company’s strategic position in the marketplace? The web now becomes much more complex.

The fact is your friend will not win by holding the computer hostage; perhaps the company has grounds for not making final payment and filing the ROE because his firing is more complicated with company property outstanding. No one else has this problem in your group and my hunch is that no one else has company property.

When pursuing a wrongful termination class action case, it is imperative that you and your colleagues do everything squeaky clean. Don’t give the company any ammunition. If he is calling his character into question, it will affect the rest of the group’s credibility.

Finally, I did find a website that indicated a ROE does not have to be given to the employee, it can be sent directly to Service Canada. That may solve the ROE issue, but it does not address the last pay being held back.

Setting Boundaries at Work with Your Boss         

How important is it to set boundaries at work with your boss? Do feel like you are being taken advantage of instead of feeling appreciated? Think about if any of these situations sound familiar:

  • 24865304_sYour personal and work cell phones are intertwined. It is difficult to ignore messages you receive after work hours. You find yourself answering the messages at all hours of the night, just so you can feel like you have a head start in the morning.
  • While on vacation, your boss calls your or emails you with urgent questions that need to be answered NOW.
  • Your boss sponsors your attendance at a certification or training session and is aware it runs from 8-5 each day. Nonetheless, he sends you messages throughout the day and expects you to spend your 10 minutes stretch breaks responding to non-crisis issues.

In each of these situations, your boss is setting the boundaries at work instead of you. While it may seem inappropriate to tell your boss “no”, it becomes a necessity if you want to keep your sanity and productivity while you are at work.

Telling your boss that you need to set boundaries at work requires you to be tactful and cool headed. It is not the time to approach your boss when you are angry because you feel used, abused or taken for granted.

The next time a situation like this happens, take a deep breath, let some time pass (preferably to the next day) and schedule some time with him to discuss the situation. It is important that you communicate the following:

  1. What was the situation that occurred?
  2. How did the situation affect you? Talk about the impact on your overall productivity.
  3. Why is it important for you to have breathing space or decompression time?
  4. Discuss strategies and boundaries for both parties to respect.
  5. Ask your boss for permission to push back if you find the situation re-occurring.

Changing behavior is difficult. Even if you boss agrees to the new boundaries at work, you may find him breaking them. The excuse will be…this is important or urgent. It is easy to get caught into the trap of those words – everything seems important. You may have to have this conversation a few times before your boss realizes how serious you are about setting boundaries at work.

How to Know It is Corporate Politics

At some point in your rising career, you will encounter corporate politics. It doesn’t matter what size the company is – it may be a family owned business or small company, the signs are the same.

istock_000001275566xsmallHow you find out may be through careful observation or perhaps experience when you find yourself in the middle of a mess. The better you prepare yourself for recognizing the signs before you get caught up in the situation, the easier it will be for you to figure out a way through it.

Here are some signs that tell you corporate politics is alive at your workplace:

  • You are surprised at decisions being made without your consultation.
  • You are not being included in communication (email or meetings) in pre-planning stages.
  • After a decision is made, subsequent meetings are held to vet out concerns and you are not invited.
  • Peers withhold information or resources that affect your effectiveness and success.
  • Communication with peers is not balanced. You hear more negative comments than positive encouragement.
  • You see a noticeable decline in meeting requests with your staff, peers or boss.

There are many more subtle and obvious signs of corporate politics. The signs I identified are the ones that become visible at first. If not addressed quickly, the organization, your peers, staff and boss will lose confidence in your ability to lead with strength.

Corporate politics essentially are power plays at work.

The way you handle the corporate politics will set a tone for everyone in the organization on how you want to be treated. It is important to not overplay your hand with emotion and not seem wimpy at the same time by letting things continue. It’s a delicate balance.

My Take on Toxic Work Environment

There’s a new term being thrown around – toxic work environment. It’s a catchy phrase. To be honest, I am not sure I like it. While I fully understand that your work environment could bad for you, toxic refers to something being caused by a toxin or poison – something that is harmful or deadly.

You might argue that your work environment is harmful because of poor management or employee relations practices. However, companies that thrive are addressing these issues, if not they will lose their talented employees and customers.

The other issue I have with a toxic work environment is that the starting place is negative. There is nothing more demotivating than knowing you are at the bottom of the barrel and every step you make will be scrutinized.

Instead, why not start from knowing what the organization does well and build on it? Recognize the areas where you can make progress and focus on what you are doing right. It’s hard to motivate management and employees who think their company is toxic. Once a label is embraced, turning it around is very difficult.

Let’s say your company does have a toxic work environment – perhaps it is affecting your performance or health. Then, I have to ask – Why are you still there? The choice is yours to stay or leave – even if it is a difficult one.

Fired After Failing Drug Test

What do you do if your company fires you for failing a drug test? One reader wanted some advice about what to do when the company says you have quit.

I needed some advice. I was fired from job last Thursday for failing a drug test. I went in Friday and my separation notice stated that I quit. I signed it as fast as possible due to not strangling my boss. I just wanted to leave at that point. Should I be worried or upset with what has happened? They would have found a way to fire me eventually regardless. It happens to lots of employees there. I think there trying to buy their way out of unemployment pay.

11566653_sHere’s the whole story.

The boss never had a problem with my work ability. He is just suspicious of me sitting in a car while on break. Well I wasn’t just the only employee to do this. I think he just had it out for me…in one of his moods. I tell him its 6 degrees out and I’m staying out of the cold. I sit in the car every morning before work with no problems. He drives by in a vehicle and sees me and I think nothing of it. I mean I’m right here in front of the shop. He acts like I’m trying to hide something for being in a car.

I tell him I seen you drive by. I’m right here you see me I see you. Then he starts talking about my team not getting enough work done. So then I call him out saying that’s not on me. I do more than anybody on team. Next thing you know I’m being called in office.

He has contacted HR and GM and told them who knows what. They ask me what I was doing in a car and this and that. I tell them I sit there every morning. They have cameras and can see that.

Then there seems to be no problem with my work ability also. I’m a helluva worker now obviously. Then he says I need a drug screen for suspicion of being where I was.

Now I do smoke marijuana now and then and I do it in privacy of my home. I can’t do it at work for the fact I wouldn’t be able to function correctly. I tell him I’m going to press lawsuit if I pass the test for it had been a few weeks since.

Then I tell him about what he said at company meeting a few months before that an employee cracked a joke and I guess he forgot where he was and started talking about his “tube steak” private area out loud with male and female workers present. That sure did shut him up in the office. So on the way to be tested my immediate supervisor tells me this should have stayed in-house. The HR and GM should have never been called. I failed the drug screen. I came back to shop and signed separation notice saying quit. Comments said Mr. XX quit. That’s the whole story if it helps. Thanks again.

Your company most likely has a drug screen or drug test policy. Random drug tests are especially popular in companies where heavy equipment is being used for safety reasons.

I realize that getting a break may mean you want to get out of the shop. While you may not have done drugs on site, employees going to their cars on break often do drugs. Staying in your car in the parking lot is probably not the best decision. You would have been better off driving off the property to a shopping center and chilling out than doing it in your car. Do not give your employer a reason to be suspicious even if you are innocent.

I am not surprised that your boss may have wanted to let you go after you “put him in his place”. For some reason, bosses don’t take kindly to someone telling them they are wrong or be reminded of an event where they may have been embarrassed by their behavior.

When you find yourself in these kinds of situations it is always better to say less and not more. Give your boss less ammunition to load the gun that is being directed at you and perhaps you may have dodged the drug test bullet.

To answer your question about signing off the separation notice that said you quit. I think you got lucky. Here’s why.

When you go to another employer, you can say you quit your last job. If you were fired, you would have to say why they fired you and failing a drug test is not something another employer wants to hear.

I realize you won’t be eligible for unemployment and that may pinch your budget; however you will get a job faster and that is more money in the long run. Good luck.

Bad Boss Behavior: What do you do?

What do you do when your boss’s behavior is inappropriate – not just once but regularly? Do you stick it out, report the bad boss behavior or leave the company? Well…that depends on the boss, the company, your career goals and the investment you have made with the company. Recently, someone shared one example of bad boss behavior and we discussed what her options were going forward.

A bad boss behavior story

Jennifer works for a private company. The VP of Human Resources is someone who was promoted from within the organization. She does not have a degree or formal training in the areas that she is responsible for – which includes more than HR. The company has many offices so Jennifer has limited contact with her boss, except by phone, conferences and other company sponsored training events.

During a week-long training, many of the evenings had mandatory team-building activities to help the HR leaders from the different parts of the company get to know one another on a personal level.

One evening, the group took off for a baseball game. As the HR VP entered the stadium she announced she was going to the bar and a wave of people followed her. Jennifer and the rest of the HR leaders went to find their seats and settle into the game.

Now you probably know where this story is going and I’ll cut to the point quickly – the HR VP never made it to her seat to watch any part of the game. In fact, the game was cut short due to weather and the group who watched the game made their way back to the bus. After waiting an hour, one of the HR Directors asked the bus driver to head back so that people could get some sleep before the morning session. Shortly after leaving, the HR VP called and told them to turn the bus around.

The HR VP entered the bus and proceeded to ream out the bus driver and HR Director for leaving the premises. Once she was done venting her wrath, she turned on her heel and headed back into the bar for another 45 minutes leaving the others on the bus to stew.

The next morning, the HR VP rehashed how disappointed she was about the decisions that were made. After a half hour of scolding, she finally moved on to the day’s training program.

I asked Jennifer why she stays with this company. There are several reasons:

  1. Right now it is about the money and she has not found another position that pays as well. With the economy shifting, there will be more opportunities for her to change companies.
  2. She wants to go someplace where the corporate or organizational culture is nurturing and positive. A previous employer is one of her top choices. It’s clear she does not want to work for someone like her current VP HR.
  3. She is committed to the company for the next several years because she is working on her master’s degree.

Evaluate what commitments you have at your current employer

If you recently joined the company and they paid for your relocation, determine what obligations you may have if you leave. Many companies require repayment of all relocation costs (including buying/selling house fees) if you leave the company within the first year of employment.

Consider any other financial obligations you have outstanding with the company. For example, did the company fund your college or advance degree program? If so, you may be tied to the company for a number of years post-graduation.

Are you close to being vested in a 401K or pension plan and you will lose the company’s contribution if you leave? I have seen cases of people leaving significant money because they just had enough and needed to move on regardless of the impact personally.

Determine if outing bad boss behavior is worth it

Sometimes it just doesn’t make corporate political sense to report bad boss behavior. If you believe that your boss is protected within the company by their superiors or that your comments and observations will be met with skepticism, review if you are the right person to bring forward these concerns.

There will be companies and organizations where change will not happen and that requires you to take personal action to stay or leave.

Organizational Culture: How to Assess it Objectively

Perhaps your organization has some of these cultural dysfunctional signs: lack of teamwork, cultural differences impacting working relationships, poor communication and low productivity. Human resources find themselves embroiled in employee counseling and coaching without making significant impact. The leadership is frustrated that employees don’t just learn to get along and are often ill-equipped or not interested in proactively managing conflict.

What are the options for finding out the extent of the dysfunction and how to fix it? There’s the obvious method of assessing organizational culture with employee surveys. However, to conduct an effective survey, the process can take two to three months. A well designed employee survey will tell you what your employees are thinking if you ask the right questions. Consider using an outside vendor to conduct the employee survey to build trust and maintain employee confidentiality.

There are other methods for assessing the organizational culture. Use an independent consultant that specializes in leadership or organizational development to conduct a series of interviews, discussionS and observations within your organization.

Why should you use an independent consultant for your cultural assessment? There are several reasons this approach is desirable:

  1. Human resources and management already have a point of view about the situation. An independent party can help to confirm or shed new light on the cultural dysfunction.
  2. Lack of trust is a reason organizations experience cultural dysfunction. It is important to bring someone in who is fair and can build rapport with the management and employees.

How do you select the right leadership or organizational consultant to conduct the assessment? Let’s face it, all consultants are not equal.

Select a consultant with:

  • Excellent listening and probing/questioning skills.
  • Hands on experience in working with individuals, team and organizations.
  • A method that assesses employees and management.
  • Grounding in personality, communication and/or behavioral training.
  • Experienced in conducting assessments and making recommendations.

With either option – using an employee survey or independent leadership/organizational consultant – expect to hear results that surprise you or you do not agree with. Many employee survey processes provide generic steps you can take to improve your results. A competent consultant is an ongoing resource to help management and employees develop feasible plans.