Ask the Headhunter: Did this new grad get railroaded out of a job?
In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.
Question: I am a new college graduate with only three months of work experience. This is (was) my very first job. I am working through a temp agency that has me on its payroll. I've been given no training. It's not clear who my boss actually is, though several managers give me work.
I put all my heart and enthusiasm into the work. I tried to reach out to my temp agency liaison for help and advice and didn't have any of my calls returned.
The big problem: I started to be sexually harassed by a female co-worker. (I'm a gay man.) This became very uncomfortable. When I finally reached my temp agency, they told me to talk to the woman and tell her (nicely) to take it easy. When I spoke with her, she seemed alright, but then she sent me a very disturbing, passive-aggressive email. I forwarded that to my agency and to my onsite manager.
On Friday, both of us were called in to HR, and HR gave me the option to leave or to stay. I chose to leave, as I was really uncomfortable working there anymore. We said our goodbyes, and I left. Nobody at my agency would return my calls. On Monday, the agency left me a voicemail stating that because of the unprofessional way I behaved and because I resigned without two weeks' notice, they cannot represent me anymore.
If I feel conflicted about my work environment — unsafe I might say — how can I get back to work there? Shouldn't my temp agency at least listen to my version of the story? Thank you.
Nick Corcodilos: I'm sorry you had such a lousy first job experience. I think you were railroaded out of your job by the HR department, because you complained, and your agency dumped you, because they don't want to buck their client. Regardless of who was at fault, the process for handling your complaint is clearly faulty.
While you were justified to complain, some companies just don't like dealing with difficult situations like this. Their "solution" is to get rid of the employee who complains. That's wrong. They should have initiated a review of what happened, and no matter who was at fault, an ultimatum is not the appropriate solution. At the very least they should have documented what happened and communicated with you in writing. Since they didn't, they may have a legal problem.
My guess is that because you're new to work, they figured they could intimidate you out of your job. They succeeded. Don't feel bad — you're still learning what your rights are at work.
Most importantly, you've learned that this employer and this agency have no integrity. They're not worth working for. They're not fair. They took the easy way out of this difficult situation.
I don't blame you for opting to leave, but I believe you may have a legal case if you choose to pursue it. I'd start by talking with your state's Department of Labor. Explain what happened, and ask for their advice about your options. It makes no sense that after HR pushed you to leave, they consider this a case of resignation without notice!
Or, talk with an attorney who specializes in employment discrimination. I'm not a lawyer, and I do not give legal advice. Some lawyers will give you an initial consultation at no charge — be sure to check that before you meet with one. Just make sure he or she is an employment law specialist. Getting legal advice does not mean you're going to sue — it's a way to find out what your legal options are. Sometimes the solution is for the lawyer to send a nastygram to the employer, and a settlement is made. Sometimes it gets more complicated.
It really angers me when an employer (not to mention the other employee) treats an employee this way — especially someone just starting out. You must decide whether to move on or get legal advice.
To answer your specific questions:
- If you feel conflicted or unsafe in a work environment, stay away from it. Why would you want to go back to work there?
- Yes, your agency should listen to your story. What they did was wrong.
If you believe you did nothing wrong, then you should decide whether you want to work with people who are doing something wrong. I'm not sure what you think would be different if your job were reinstated — or why you'd want to work with people like this. My advice is: Don't. Find an employer or an agency with integrity. And decide whether to take legal action. This may be helpful: "New Grads: How to get in the door without experience."
I wish you the best. There are lots of good employers out there. It's important to look more carefully at a company before you join up. See "How can I find the truth about a company?" and "Get the manager's resume before you interview for the job."
Dear Readers: There are two big issues in this week's Q&A — the special challenges new grads face at their first jobs and discrimination. What did you experience as a new grad at your first job? Have you faced blatant discrimination like this employee did? What advice would you offer?
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