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Fired for Insubordination? Really?


Q: I am an experienced, sharp, efficient 50-year -old woman who has worked all of her life. I had a great track record, and my managers loved me. Then I was transferred to a new department with a 30-year, inexperienced male manager. I was totally open and accepting and didn't care that he was a manager, and I worked for him. On the first day, he told me he wasn't going to micro-manage me, and that I knew what I was doing, so he was going to let me do what I needed to for getting the job done.

But the next day, he walked around making angry, aggressive comments to me like, "You think you're so smart, don't you!" "You think you know everything." "You think you're better than everyone else." It was the strangest thing I've ever experienced. He has no people skills, nor does he care. He was openly jealous of me, and he didn't even realize how sick his comments made him look. He also proved to be vindictive, dishonest and unethical.

I couldn't figure out why he hated me until I remembered that I caught one of his mistakes and corrected him. I saved him before he could make a mistake in front of clients that would have shown him to be careless and naive, He should have thanked me for catching it early, but he didn't. That's when he railed me for thinking I was better than him. I should have let the mistake be made so he would have looked like a fool, but I have always operated as a team player no matter how horrible others are.

He then set up a phony situation, called me into a private office and fired me for insubordination. After telling me I should do my work as I always do, he ordered me to do something that would have lost an account. I told him that wouldn't be a good idea, so he fired me for refusing to follow his order. I have never seen such bizarre behavior in a boss.

He apparently had planned it and asked his boss to go along with it.

The company has now denied me unemployment. I have never been fired in my life. To show more of what he is like, he called another one of his employees who was 50, "a crotchety old man." The man quickly got another job and quit, but didn't file a complaint with the EEOC, so his comment is not on record. What should I do?

A: You are in luck. "The fiscal cliff negotiations continue and the federal Emergency Unemployment Insurance program will continue through December 2013," reported the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

You are going to file for unemployment and stand up for what's right. He is not a typical 30-year-old and certainly not a typical manager. When you file for unemployment, you will have to state the reason reported in your personnel file. But you must also argue against insubordination and report the events leading up to being fired. It's understandable that the other 50-year-old worker quit; it's just unfortunate he didn't write a letter to the company's human resource department to report that manager. (Your manager's boss is probably unaware of that incident, which is why he is backing him on your case.)

You will be given an appointment either by phone or in person to explain your side of the story. If you see the investigator in person, bring all the complementary memos about you to show that this manager's accusation is false.

Be calm and present yourself as the emotionally mature and professional person you are. This manager's insecurity, jealousy and ignorance should show its ugly self when he is asked questions in your hearing. Since his boss backed him, it's possible he lied to his boss about the situation. Once you report the truth, the interviewer should see through this trumped up charge and award you compensation.

Email all your questions to workplace expert Lindsey Novak at She answers all emails. To find out more about Lindsey Novak and to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Website at COPYRIGHT 2013 CREATORS.COM


4 Comments | Post Comment
I hope Novak is right that you'll be awarded unemployment compensation. It's certainly worth applying. You might also consider talking to see whether you might have a case against the company, because it does not sound like they really fired you for the reasons they gave. Were they perhaps wanting to get rid of their older employees to save money on health insurance, and creating a smokescreen for doing so?

Whatever you do, don't roll over.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Nowhereman
Thu Jan 3, 2013 2:28 PM
Nowhereman, that's quite possible, although it's far from certain.

LW's boss was insecure about managing older employees, clearly. I'd suggest that older employees need to be extremely careful in these situations about HOW they correct a boss. As she said, he should have thanked her...but it sounds as if he's not had the unpleasant experience of looking "careless and naive" in front of clients. (And she shouldn't kid herself that she'd have been better off letting him make the mistake -- had she done so, she'd have been raked over the coals the next day for NOT catching it.)

Second-guessing isn't helpful here for LW, but on the chance that it might help someone else: when you know a boss is gunning for you, I think you have to be very careful. "I told him that was not a good idea" is like waving a red flag at an angry bull. You're better off rephrasing and questioning and yeah, even deferring to his "vision" if you want to hold on to your job: : "I'm sorry, I don't think I understand. It seems like that might make them made enough to cancel their account -- what am I missing?"

If he's determined to get rid of you
Comment: #2
Posted by: hedgehog
Thu Jan 3, 2013 6:19 PM
LW1: I'm confused as to how you were transferred to another department against your will. I'm assuming it was against your will because why would you choose to work for this man? If you're so sharp why didn't you document his behavior and report it to HR? You must have realized at some point that he was going to get rid of you. This isn't how valuable employees are treated so I doubt your story.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Diana
Sat Jan 5, 2013 1:41 PM
Diana: people get transferred all the time without their consent. In my world, it's usually the result of reorganization.

Having been through a similar situation as the LW a few years back, I will add the following.

1. UE disputes can take many weeks to come to "trial". In my state, you talk to a judge over the phone, and the company has a representative there as well.

2. It is VERY hard to "prove" insubordination without back up documentation (ie email). It becomes a "he said/she said" situation. Many companies will threaten not to pay UE when they fire you, but you should file anyways. If they know they have a rocky case, they may pay out anyways. There are penalties involved if they are found to have fabricated a situation or set the employee up.

3. Since the LW is over 50, s/he should contact the EEOC directly. After age 50, it becomes harder to fire people, especially ones with a long work history with the company, because many companies were caught doing that to get out of paying pensions (oh, those were the days!) etc. as Nowhereman says. It may be possible to file an age discrimination suit.

4. I would contact the "crotchedy" old man before getting to the EEOC and see if he's willing to testify or give some kind of statement. There is safety in numbers.

5. IF the company insists on fighting your UE claim, start by writing a dispassionate account of what happened. Your letter is a good place to start, but you need to take out some of the anger in it and finger pointing.

Good luck.
Comment: #4
Posted by: nanchan
Sun Jan 6, 2013 1:52 AM
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