Can I Be Fired For Reporting Sexual Harassment?

Question:

Can a person be fired while not on the job? I wrote you some time ago about a harassment issue in my office. A week ago, I made a formal charge about the issues. I was then on vacation for 10 days. I was called into the office last Friday – while still on my vacation time, and told I was being fired for insubordination — because it was my managers who were involved in the harassment. My first question: CAN they fire me while I am not “employed” — in essence not on the job — and Secondly: Can they fire me for bringing this incident to light?

Signed,

Fired When On Vacation


Answer:

DearĀ Fired When On Vacation:

You don’t have to be “on the job’ to get fired. I need more info in order to make an informed decision. Please inform me of the entire circumstances involved. Thank you.

Dan Kearney, Guest Respondent & HR Manager The Workplace Doctors Additional Information: About two weeks ago, I made a complaint of sexual “and other” harassment to my manager’s boss. I had intended to simply fill out the required forms to make the complaint, but was told there were none, but Mr. W. would meet with me anytime, anywhere to discuss whatever it was I wanted.

When I met with him, he told me the meeting was STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL between the two of us. I aired my complaint, with documented paperwork. He told me to put it in writing and send it to him. I also told him I would discuss it with my immediate supervisors (who were both involved) as I did not feel I wanted to “go behind their backs” to make the complaint. He OK’d it, agreeing that they were both out of line.

In the meeting with both supervisors, the manager called Mr. W. to ask if I had met with him. He told her, yes – and then proceeded to give her information that had only been discussed in his and my meeting. He also suggested that I be “written up” for my actions.

That was Friday, Aug, 26, and the start of my vacation until Sept. 7. I heard nothing from anyone – got no written notices, no phone calls during the entire week. Friday came, which is a payday. I had inquired as to when the paychecks would be in, and when I could pick mine up. The receptionist called me and said they were in, I could pick mine up at 4:30 – and the supervisor “needs to talk with you”.

When I went to pick up my pay, I was told I was being fired for “direct insubordination”. I asked exactly what that entailed, and was told, “It’s spelled out in the handbook.” I asked for a copy of the handbook, and have read it thoroughly — I see NO definition as to WHAT is considered direct insubordination, and what I would have done that falls under it.

This company has a HISTORY (over the past 4 years) of firing “at will” anyone over 50. Does this seem like a fight-able cause?? Signed, Fired When On Vacation

Dear Fired For? We are sorry for you about what appears to be mistreatment. The additional description of your situation raises many questions and still leaves us without complete information. We provide advice regarding working relationships; however, your situation appears to be one that entails sexual harassment, age discrimination, and retaliation. If so, these are areas for which you may need legal representation. We recommend that you take your documentation to an attorney and discuss the issues with him/her. Initial consultations are typically free. Check about that before you go. Please get back to us with what you learn and what you elect to do. Others can learn from your unhappy situation.

Put your faith in facts, fairness, and persistence. Work is hard enough without mistreatment. If you were in the wrong, accept it. If not, seek the help needed to make it right. Thinking and acting for that is what we mean by our signature WEGO. Follow Up: My family has questioned whether or not this will “black ball” me from other employment in the same field – in essence–.”No one wants to hire a whistle-blower” — any depth to it??

Follow Up: It’s very difficult to prove “blackballing” however, you may want to consider a different location if you happen to be located in a metropolitan area. Word does get out among HR Mgrs plus reference checking and/or internet ref checking where they can view any and all legal cases you may be involved in, so…this is another question for your attorney. Good luck to you and please keep us posted.

Feedback: Actually, I HAVE taken my info to an attorney — who basically says the same thing you are — he is definitely interested in my case and will take it on —

OK — again, thanks for your advice. I will let you know how things work out. I have noticed that they are still using my “by-lines” for the newspaper even though I am not longer working here.

Dan Kearney