You Worked for a Crook Who Fired You Abruptly? Don’t Waste Time Badmouthing Your Ex-boss; Explore Your Legal Options.

Question: 

After working long, hard hours without complaint for fifteen years, and at the end of a shift in which I’d done everything my employer asked of me, I got fired.

I’m a delivery driver and a good one. I take my job seriously. I pay attention to traffic patterns and calculate the fastest routes.  This morning I knew I had to get a head start on my route because the roads would be slick.

There’s supposed to be a warehouse worker to help me load product when I pull my truck up to the warehouse. This rarely happens. As a result, my back has paid the price.

That doesn’t mean I’m not willing to do whatever it takes, but I’ve learned to work smarter so my back lasts until I retire.

This morning the owner arrived just as I was about to leave. He said a customer, his friend, wanted me to deliver his product first. I’d already loaded my entire truck; it had taken more than an hour. I said, “I’m early and if I start my run right away, I can deliver to the others first and get his stuff to him by 8:30.” What I was thinking was that I’d have to completely unload and reload the truck to deliver first to his friend.

The owner blew up. He said I wore his company’s uniform and if I needed to unload and reload a damn truck, that was part of the job.

I unloaded and reloaded the truck and delivered his friend’s order first.

When I got back at the end of my morning shift, the payroll clerk handed me a pink slip. This burns me. It means my 15 years of hard work and hurting my back counted for nothing. “End of story,” as they say.

My wife says I should ask you what I can say when asked why I got fired.  Anything I say might reveal my back problem or that I talked back. She said to tell  you my boss is a crook and I’ve often worked 10-hour days but never received overtime because I’m a contractor.

Answer: 

Here’s what you say. You worked fifteen years for your former employer, working long, hard hours without complaint. You’re now looking for your next long-term employer.  

If asked, “Why are you leaving?” you can say, “I worked there a long time and so have loyalty to them. I’ve learned good things about your company, and that’s what makes me ready to move on.”  If asked “what things?” mention what you saw on their website. If you’ve heard good things about their company, say so, and share what you’ve heard.

Badmouthing a past employer always splashes mud your way. Even if your prospective employer calls your former employer and learns you were fired, the fact that you didn’t “dish the dirt” and were employed for 15 years before being let go will likely balance things in your favor.

Meanwhile visit the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development and the Office of Occupational Safety and Health Administration, as you may have both overtime and worker safety claims. You also possibly have an Americans with Disabilities Act claim.

Although your employer paid you as a contractor, you were required to wear his company’s uniform and he specifically directed the manner of your work including your schedule and routing. 

If you drove your employer’s delivery truck, this may be further evidence you were an employee. When an employer controls the means and methods by which an individual works, it is evidence the worker should be classified as an “employee” rather than an “independent contractor.”

“Misclassifying an employee as a contractor has serious ramifications under the Fair Labor Standards Act as well as state requirements. The FLSA requires an hourly wage and overtime for hours worked in excess of eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a week. The state of Alaska requires employers to contribute to unemployment insurance for its employees. By labeling you as an ‘independent contractor’ your former employer avoided these payroll taxes.

Meanwhile, the Labor Department can help you secure the overtime you were owed. Further, OSHA can assess whether your prior employer’s chronic understaffing created a safety issue and whether firing you for suggesting a reasonable work-around constituted unfair retaliation.

I also wonder if your employer noted you were having back issues and terminated you because of a perceived disability, a potential violation of the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Act. If you think this happened, you can visit your state’s human rights commission.

In other words, your story isn’t over yet.

© 2020, Lynne Curry

Lynne Curry, Ph.D., SPHR, is the author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” (AMACOM, 2016, https://amzn.to/30V5JO6) and “Solutions”, https://amzn.to/2GYlnAN (both books are rated 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com). Send your questions to her at Ask a Coach at www.workplacecoachblog.com or lynnewriter10@gmail.com or www.communicationworks.net or follower her on twitter @lynnecurry10.

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2 thoughts on “You Worked for a Crook Who Fired You Abruptly? Don’t Waste Time Badmouthing Your Ex-boss; Explore Your Legal Options.

  1. wow. these are wise comments. I respect your advice about not dishing the dirt on your employer who did illegal things with the further insight that if a potential employer finds you were fired by this employer/crook, it should add to their respect for you not dishing.

  2. Thanks, Suz, and you’re spot on. Even if you accurately explain to a prospective employer that a prior employer was unethical, the prospective employer feels uneasy about your willingness to make negative comments.

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