Although office holiday parties can be an amazing way to thank employees for their hard work all year, they can also be a minefield of potential liability for employers. This liability can crop up in any number of ways, including through harassing or offensive comments, inappropriate sexual or romantic advances, inadvertent discrimination, and excessive alcohol consumption. This year, in addition to these issues, employers also need to be prepared to deal with a brand new potential pitfall: the use of recreational cannabis.
At Rudner Law, we meet with many people shortly after they have lost their jobs. Some are in shock, while others “saw it coming” and were ready. So what is the difference? Why are some people attuned to the situation and others seemingly oblivious? In some cases, there were no signs and really no way they could have known. But in many others, being dismissed takes people by surprise because they prefer to ignore the things they consider to be outside of their control. This behaviour is seen in other areas of life too. For example, we do it with relationships that are not working, habits that are not good for us, and health problems we do not want to acknowledge. So there should be no surprise that we also do it with jobs we are about to lose.
Below I share with you some common signs that often indicate your job may be on the line.
Mergers and Acquisitions
When two similar companies merge, the result is substantial overlap among their workforce. They could have two CFO’s, two Directors of Marketing, etc. The economies of scale provided by mergers often mean that many of these positions will be eliminated. It may then become more cost-effective to eliminate staff functions that are covered in their company. It is easy to rest on your laurels and think: “I have way more experience and I am 10 times more qualified than the idiots at their company – they know my value!” However, it is important to remember that it is not about you. Ultimately, it’s about profitability, loyalty and “politics”. The best person does not always get the job.
Your Relationship with Your Boss Deteriorates
This one is often hard to accept and instead you justify or dismiss noticeable negative changes in your relationship with your boss. You may make excuses such as “he has a lot going on right now” or “she’s been really busy lately”. If over a period of time, your boss has become less supportive and warm; or they seem more and more frustrated, disappointed or angry towards you (noticeably more than before) then you are in trouble. The best thing to do in a situation like this is to schedule a time with your boss to find out whether they are satisfied with your work or whether there are things you can to do differently. If your boss’ response is along the lines of, “no, everything is fine”, the odds are, that’s a lie. Assuming you did not imagine the whole thing and your boss’ behaviour towards you has noticeably deteriorated, you need to seriously start thinking about your exit plan. Remember that you can be let go at any time; they do not have to have just cause, as long as they provide notice or pay in lieu.
Your Performance Is Suddenly Under The Microscope
You’ve been with the company for years, receiving consistently positive reviews. All of a sudden, your performance is being brought into question, your reviews are less than stellar, and the company had threatened to put you in a Performance Improvement Plan. You and your performance may not have changed, but your employment relationship and security clearly have. This may be a situation where the organisation, or your manager, is building the file to justify your dismissal.
Similarly, you notice that everything is happening through emails instead of casual conversations. Concerns about your behaviour or performance are recorded in writing, and perhaps copied to HR. If you don’t really like your boss, it may be a relief that they stop talking to you, but it could also mean that they are trying to create a paper trail. They can record all of your mistakes and transgressions, and also establish that they did everything “by the book”.
Diminution of Role or Duties
All of sudden, you notice that your workload is being reduced. You may be over the moon because you are being paid the same to do less work. However, making you a less essential part of the team could be a sign that your company is preparing to let you go.
If you are inexplicably and consistently left out of meetings or projects of which you were formerly a part, and if your responsibilities are being shifted to other employees, that should be a red flag that something is not right. You should raise your concerns with your boss or Human Resources. If your boss’ response is to feign ignorance, or if your concern is simply dismissed, your job maybe on the line. You should also keep in mind that excluding someone can be a form of harassment that will give you a legal cause of action.
Just like in the schoolyard, being left out or marginalized at work is rarely a good thing.
Sensing that you are about to be fired can be one of the most stressful experiences you can face. It can stir up a range of emotions including fear, anger and self-pity; but closing your eyes to troubling signs does not make them go away. If anything, warning signals should be used as an opportunity to turn things around. They also provide you with time to plan your departure if things do not improve; for example, should you quit or should you negotiate a severance package? At the very least, you should begin exploring your options. In most cases, you should trust your instincts; if you think your days are numbered, they probably are. Change, even when involuntary, can take your career to new heights. Many of our clients have taken the opportunity to move on to better jobs or start their own business. When you are open to change, you are open to more and better opportunities and experiences.
If you feel that your job is in danger, you’re probably right. We’d be happy to advise you on how to navigate the situation. You should arrange a consultation with one of our lawyers, who can discuss the matter with you in detail, explain the law, and provide you with options and potential strategies for moving forward. To find out more about our firm or to book a consultation, click here.