Have a general question about employment law? Want to share a story? I welcome all comments and questions. I can't give legal advice here about specific situations but will be glad to discuss general issues and try to point you in the right direction. If you need legal advice, contact an employment lawyer in your state. Remember, anything you post here will be seen publicly, and I will comment publicly on it. It will not be confidential. Govern yourself accordingly. If you want to communicate with me confidentially as Donna Ballman, Florida lawyer rather than as Donna Ballman, blogger, my firm's website is here.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Upset At Work? Don't Walk Out Or They'll Claim You Quit

I see scenarios where employees leave work early for entirely sane reasons. For instance:

  • 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.

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I appreciate your comments and general questions but this isn't the place to ask confidential legal questions. If you need an employee-side employment lawyer, try http://exchange.nela.org/findalawyer to locate one in your state.