- They are threatened by a coworker or customer and feel unsafe
- They are so upset by a confrontation with management or a coworker that they are crying
- They are sexually harassed
- They are called racial, ethnic, or other discriminatory names
Yet in each of these circumstances, I also see employers claim the employee quit or abandoned their position. Why the disparity?
As I see it, the employer was looking for reason to get rid of the employee and the employee gave them the excuse they needed. Otherwise, of course the employer would understand the employee leaving early to regroup, calm down, or get to safety.
In many cases, the employee actually calls or goes to HR or management and explains what happened and why they are leaving. They are told to go ahead and go. Yet they are still accused of abandoning their position or quitting.
What's an employee to do?
Here are some suggestions if you face intolerable conditions at work:
If you feel unsafe, call 911: Even this might not save your job, since many employees get fired for the very act of calling the cops. Still, this is probably better than leaving. However, if you are truly unsafe, such as being physically threatened, get the heck out of there. No job is worth your life.
Put it in writing: Rather than a call or in-person conversation, put your complaint in writing. Don't say you were bullied or "harassed." Say you were sexually harassed or harassed due to race, age, national origin, disability, or other protected category so you are protected against retaliation.
Ask permission: Instead of saying you are leaving, ask, again in writing, if it's okay to leave to calm down or get to safety. If you have permission, it's harder for them to say you quit or abandoned your job. If the permission is verbal, put that in writing. "This will confirm that you called me today at 4:32 p.m. and advised that I have permission to leave early due to my complaint of sexual harassment against John Doe. Thank you for your consideration."
Even these steps might not save your job, so try to stay if you can. But if you have to leave, document the best you can before you go.