GET IT IN WRITING
Question: I have worked for a franchised retail outlet for approximately five years. Last year it was being relocated and the drive was going to be longer. I didn’t really want to commute and was considering resigning. My boss and the owner assured me, however, that if I went with the relocation, when a new assistant manager position came open, I would get it. I was skeptical. I asked the owner how he could promise that when head office might dictate who got the assistant manager position. The owner indicated that he would not be pushed around by head office. I accepted this promise at face value and stayed with my employment when the store relocated. My boss had an affair with one of my fellow employees who had heard about the prospect of me getting an assistant manager position. Suddenly, discussion of that prospect stopped. Eventually my boss quit and went elsewhere, someone else was made assistant manager. When I confronted the owner about his promises, it appeared that the conversation had never taken place. I had imagined the whole thing. Is there anything I can do or could have done?
Answer: Not really. Theoretically, you could walk out the door and take the position that your employer breached the contract with you and that you were constructively dismissed. The onus will be on you to prove the contract…the agreement that if you continued in your employment you would get the next assistant manager position. Unfortunately, you have nothing in writing and the judge will just have to guess who is telling the truth. Sometimes judges guess wrong. The lawsuit, at best, might have gotten you three or four months pay in any case. Generally speaking, a job is always better than a lawsuit.
There is, however, a very important life lesson for all employees in your story. I want to put this gently but here is my definition of “foolish”. A person who works the extra hours, stays later, gives 110%, goes to work sick and always goes the extra mile for a job on the assumption that management promises that they will get some bonus, promotion or salary increase at a later date will be honoured. In my experience, going the extra mile for undocumented promises is foolish. Don’t get me wrong. If you want to 110% because you get personal satisfaction from seeing a job well done, that’s great. You are doing it for your own reasons and not because you are hoping that your employer will do the right thing and reward you at some later date. Sometimes I hear employers wonder whatever happened to employee loyalty. My theory is that employee loyalty, for the most part, died the day somebody invented the work “restructuring”.
It used to be that in your obituary, your career employer would always be listed. When you see somebody’s employer mentioned in their obituary these days, more often than not the employee was in an unionized position and was only there long enough to have the employer mentioned because the employer could not get rid of them.
In most modern careers, a person will have multiple employers. Sometimes this is because the employee themselves move on to greener pastures. More often than not, it is because they have been “restructured”. I can’t tell you how many times a terminated employee has sat across my desk and asked me whether they can do anything about recouping for all the sick days they never took and the overtime they never documented and the weekend work they never recorded. I try to break it to them gently. As those employees go on to their next position with the next employer, I have no doubt they are still good workers, but they’ve got to be thinking twice about that extra mile before they give it.
Make sure you are getting paid today for the effort and value you are contributing today. You may be restructured tomorrow. If you’re not getting what you deserve, spend your Saturdays going through job ads not going to work.
There’s truth in the old saying that you have to move out to move up. You own your own commodity and if you want to get paid well for it, you have to sell it to the highest bidder. Nobody can bid on it if you are hiding it under a basket.
Looking for work and changing employers is stressful, asking for a raise is stressful. She who embraces stress gets more money.
Employers should not take the impression from this article that employee loyalty is dead. I have heard many great stories from employees about how they didn’t want me to pursue an extra month or two severance because although they believed me when I said their severance package was on the chintzy side, their employer gave them excellent support when a loved one was sick or dying and they were willing to walk for less. No doubt compassion for employees who are in need is rewarded by employees with increased commitment to the job. That’s a good thing and it still goes on.
What employees should not do is give extraordinary efforts to a job year after year in perpetual hope of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that never arrives. That leads to deep and abiding bitterness and isn’t good for anybody.
So, in response to the question of whether there was anything you could have done, you could have told your employer that unless they gave you a promotion and a raise right then and there you were going to look for work elsewhere. Alternatively, you could have asked your employer to give you a letter in writing confirming that if you relocated with the store, you would receive the next assistant manager position. That’s not much help now but keep it in mind for next time.
As published in the Hamilton Spectator, August 5, 2006