[author: Kraig J. Marton, Esq.]
Many employees come in to work and suddenly find themselves laid off or terminated and without a job. The termination comes as a complete surprise. The employee has received warning signs which may or may not have been recognized. If an employee looks for and can recognize the signs, the employee may be able to avoid the termination, look for another job while still employed or take other corrective measures.
In this article we explore eight warning signs that alert you that you are about to be fired. If you are on the employment termination path, there are steps that you may take to prevent your termination.
What to look for if you are being set up for termination
Although most Arizona employment is “at will”, many employers are smart enough to be careful about having cause for termination. When an employer can show there was good cause to terminate, the employer is more likely to be insulated from any claim of harassment or discrimination. It also makes better business sense to only terminate people where there is cause. The best way for an employer to prove good cause to terminate is with documentation, and there are other ways that supervisors use in building good cause.
Here are things any employee should look for, to see whether they are being set up to be terminated:
1. Your boss starts expressing unhappiness with you. One of the earliest signs of a pending problem is when your supervisor starts saying they are disappointed, unhappy or displeased with you or your work. The expressions may come in the form of oral criticism, sniping comments, department meetings, in an e-mail, in an internal memo or other communications. Whenever a boss expresses any form of dissatisfaction with you, you should take that as an early red flag that something needs to be fixed.
2. You get written up. One of the primary steps in proving cause for termination is good documentation showing what happened and why. When an employee makes a mistake or breaks a company rule, it is not unusual for them to be written up with some kind of warning, corrective action or other form of documentation. If you are written up, and there is a good reason for that write up, it may be that the write up was appropriate and written in good faith to address the issue. But if you have been written up unfairly or if you were written up when an oral conversation should have been enough, that is a red flag that the boss may be intending to soon walk you out the door.
3. The write ups escalate. It is a significant red flag if you are written up more than once in a short period of time. Many bosses decide they want someone terminated and then start writing them up for anything and everything they can find. If you get written up more than once and the reasons seem weak or unnecessary, then this is a significant red flag that you will soon be terminated.
4. You get excluded. Another significant red flag to watch for is when you find yourself excluded from things that you had been part of previously. Perhaps it is a working committee. Perhaps you are no longer invited to lunch or no longer part of a decision-making team. When you learn that meetings, lunches, get-togethers or events are being held and you are not being invited, you should probably see it as a significant factor. Again it could mean that a pink slip is not far away.
5. You get demoted. Many employers may start the termination process by a game of “take away”. You might find yourself with less authority, less reporting responsibilities, less duties or even less work. When you find that your job is being diminished by objective action from your boss that too should be telling you something.
6. Meetings are canceled. Another thing to watch for is when you have regular one-on-one meetings and they get canceled, with no reason or very little reason. If you were supposed to regularly meet with your boss for one-to-one meetings and suddenly they are happening less and less frequently, you need to think about what is happening and why.
7. You get set up for failure. Many employers provide goals and expectations for their employees. Often such goals and expectations are created jointly and worked out through an interactive process between management and the employee. But when you find yourself with goals that cannot be met or expectations that are unreasonable, you need to think about why this is happening. You may very well find yourself being set up for failure.
8. It all works together. If you see some or all of the above listed red flags it should tell you something. At a minimum it means that something is not going right at work. However, if you are experiencing several of these, it probably means that you are targeted for termination. If so, you need to think about it, analyze what is happening and decide how you want to act and react.
Once you realize that you are likely on the road to employment termination, you need to know that there are options:
Responding to the red flags.
It may be that the decision is made and it is just a matter of time before you are gone. If that is so, there is nothing you can do to avoid the termination and you should be looking for new employment. However, it may be that the red flags are just that - warnings that there are major problems that will lead to employment termination if things are not fixed.
Here are some ideas that you might consider if you do feel that you are being set up for termination.
1. Fight the paper war. Whenever something bad is said about you in any writing, respond and address it. If it is wrong, say so. If the criticism is justified, admit it and promise to fix it. Regardless, you need to respond in the same format as the initial criticism (e-mail to e-mail, memo to memo, etc.) and you need to write to the same people who received the first criticism. It is always important to have your side of the story in writing for what may later be a “paper war”.
2. Ask why. Another strategy is to sit down with your boss and ask why these things are happening. Again, it may very well be that you are being targeted for termination. Conversely, they may be giving you a warning about the need for improvement. Open communications might tell you not only what is happening but also what you may need to do to change the outcome.
3. Fix things. Although obvious, if there is a problem, fix it. Consider talking to co-employees, peers, customers or others about what you could do better, and then improve your performance.
4. Bring value to your job. Another way to prove your value would be to prove you are irreplaceable. It may be that you are worth more than you think you are. Think about what you have brought to the company, whether in savings, efficiencies or other benefits and find some way to professionally brag about it.
5. Make sure everyone knows what you are worth. Yet another approach might be to prove your value by reports, memos, attendance at meetings or other activity that visibly shows what you have brought to the company, how good a job you have been doing and the like.
6. Be creative. There are undoubtedly many other ideas that you can think of to enhance your position, improve your relationship with those you work with and increase your chances of preserving your job, and all you can do is try. It may be that it is too late, or it may be that you can still save your job. It’s best to put forth the effort.
7. Look for another job. If the red flags are red enough, it is time to look elsewhere. It is always better, and usually easier, to obtain a new job when you already have one.
8. Seek Legal Counsel. If the red flags are there, it is best to seek the counsel of a seasoned employment attorney. They may be able to assist you with strategies to prolong your employment or they help you develop and pursue a legal claim against your employer.
In today’s climate, it is challenging to find a job and sometimes even harder to be successful at it. If you start seeing red flags at work, be proactive and take steps sooner rather than later. It will make a difference.
About the author: Kraig J. Marton is an employment attorney that heads the employment law department at the Phoenix law firm of Jaburg Wilk. He assists employers in compliance with Arizona labor laws. Kraig can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602.248.1017.
This article is not intended to provide legal advice and only relates to Arizona law. It does not consider the scope of laws in states other than Arizona. Always consult an attorney for legal advice for your particular situation. This policy is written based on Arizona law for Arizona employers.