What Can I Do If A Lie Got Me Fired?

Question:

My husband and I work for the same organization. It is a large assisted-living organization which oversees 26-30 individual communities. My husband is retired but has needed part time work to supplement his pension. For the past 5 years he has been a bus/van driver at one of the assisted living communities. The residents like him & know they can depend on him. He enjoys the job and loves his friendships with the residents. He has an impeccable job performance.

He is not insubordinate or disrespectful to upper management. He has always believed in equality; no position and no person are any more important or less important than the next. Upper management do not like that attitude; they “control” with an iron fist, and are just emotionally unavailable; not just my impression, but shared by many other associates as well as most of the residents. When decisions are made, it is expected that they be adhered to w/o question or comment.

If something seems illogical or impractical, or just unclear, my husband will ask for clarification. They have made it obvious that they consider his feedback as being improper, and it has been very apparent for the past several months that there have been attempts to make him leave.

There is a LOT of background information on this, but all of their attempts were realized a couple of weeks ago. A supervisor claimed that my husband approached her in an angry and threatening way, was yelling in her face and “furiously” shaking his finger at her. The claim was that, “I feared for my life”. People were milling around the area, but no one even noticed them talking; apparently there was not enough commotion to get their attention. And even if he were so inclined to threaten her, it’s unlikely that she would have to fear for her life with a building full of people.

My husband was stunned when he heard the allegations. He questioned her, “why are you saying something so outrageous”, “you know that’s a blatant lie”, etc., etc. The accuser refused to look at him or answer him. btw, he was alone in the office facing the exec. director, his accuser (a supervisor) and another manager. He posed questions to the others in the room, “how can you possibly believe this”, “why are you so ready to take it as truth and not let me tell you what really happened”.

At that point the Exec. Director said that the community could not take a chance on having someone so volatile there, and immediately fired him. He wasn’t even given an opportunity to give a resignation. He was escorted out the door; not even a chance to say bye to the residents. There has been a lot of (unsolicited) feedback from residents over this. In fact, his termination has left the residents w/o many of their outside trips and activities because they don’t have anyone qualified to drive the bus. They have all known him 3-5 years, they know he is really just a big teddy bear (don’t tell him I said that).

The supervisor who made the claim has been at the co. about 9 months. I’ve tried to abbreviate a story which has many more components to it. My questions are: What (if any) recourses does he have? If he requests a copy of his file and of the report, do they have to give it to him? What guarantee do we have that the file won’t be tampered with before sending it? Can we pursue this matter on anything such as defamation of character; loss of income; potential loss of income; verbal abuse; emotional distress, etc? My husband is primarily concerned with having his name cleared; letting the org. executives know the negative effect his dismissal has had on the residents; and he feels the 2 primary responsible parties should have consequences for their actions. I’m not sure how I feel about pursuing it further and consider a lawsuit. Based on this information, can you please give me some feedback and suggestions? Thanks so much!

Signed,

Frustrated and Wondering


Answer:

Dear Frustrated and Wondering:

If you have questions about a lawsuit, you could ask for a free consultation about it–which gives you the chance to at least see if you have legal standing, without spending money on the process until you decide. Most attorneys have paraglegals or attorneys who can provide some reasoned thoughts about your specific situation, given the nature of the organization and the state involved, without charge.

Clearly, the perspective of supervisors, managers and others, about the appropriateness of your husband’s comments or approaches, or his reactions to their direction, are not the same as his and yours.

Unfortunately, that difference of opinion, or the fact that it seems someone lied, while frustrating and upsetting, doesn’t have an affect on whether or not the employer could fire your husband anyway. Unless there is a union contract involved, employers do not have to give a reason for firing anyone. An employee can be dismissed for any reason or no reason. They CANNOT be dismissed solely because of their race, religion, ethnicity, disability or age–but those factors must be proven as sole causes.

So, I doubt there is any legal or civil basis for action about it. But still, it might be worthwhile to check, just for your own peace of mind.

As I state later in this response, I do think it would be worthwhile for your husband to express his concerns to someone higher up–probably the higher the better. It might be information they need, or would reinforce concerns they already have.

As for the records or statements, employers are not obligated to release the details of investigations to individuals, only to courts. This is done to protect those who complained, as well as to avoid increasing the anger and perhaps retaliation that can result when someone reads and re-reads things they view as unfair. (As you can imagine, almost everyone thinks their dismissal is unfair, and there have been very negative responses.) It sounds as though your husband’s work style and that which was wanted by managers there, were not compatible. Dr. Gorden often advises employees to “vote with their feet” when it becomes clear they can’t tolerate a work situation. At the same time we often advise employers to exercise their dimissal rights when they have made it clear they do not like an employee’s responses or methods, but the employee continues in the same way. We also tell people to make official complaints when someone is persistently aggressive in a way that is unnerving or stressful. So, we might have advised each person to do what they did,had we heard their view of it!

I would imagine every person in this situation has a story that makes perfectly good sense to them and that is true from their perspective. This does point out the value of written warnings,to let employees know that their behavior and demeanor is not what is wanted and that if there are no changes, the employee will be dismissed. That way, at least the employee can decide whether it is worth it to him or her to adapt to keep the job.

However, even if an employer never warns an employee, or never suggests they should respond differently, the fact is that the employee can be fired, (or the employee can quit), without any legal ramifications on either side.

Your husband should ask for copies of his personnel record so he can show future employers his good evaluations in the past. Most companies will make at the least the ratings page available. If he has letters of commendation from anyone, those should be copied as well. Again, they are not required to provide such records. I always advise employees to make copies of their performance evaluations at the time they receive them, just for that reason. In this case, he should write a very basic letter, without any other comments, just a request for copies of records and reports contained in his personnel file.

If he applies for another job it is likely his recent employers will only verify that he worked there from such and such a time to another time, without further comment. If your husband has contacts through this recent work, perhaps they would write reference letters about how much they enjoyed interacting with him. Or, it may be there are those who work for the company who would write a reference letter, but not representing the company officially.

As I mentioned at the beginning, it would seem like a good idea for your husband to write this situation up as a report to someone at a much higher level in the organization, to state how unfair he thinks it is, and how poorly the place has been managed. If there are several such reports on file, it might have a big impact on things. He should let them know he is available to be interview about this at any time. If he has witnesses about it, he should give their names as well.

At the higher levels they still might not change the decision, but it might change some aspects of management or supervision there. Your husband could reiterate that he would like to come back to work, but not if things continue as they are. A letter such as that might not make a difference, but it might. I can’t think of any negative results for your husband from writing such a letter, as long as it is written courteously and appropriately.

I’m sorry this has worked out in this way, and I’m sure it has been mentally and emotionally upsetting. Best wishes for the future.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.