I'm constantly surprised by the number of employees who
come to me after having signed things their employer shoved in front of them,
released claims, accepted transfers or demotions, or even admitted to stealing
when they didn't. I ask them, "Why didn't you say no?" They look at
me like I've turned into a Martian.
Too many employees don't realize that they do have some rights in the
workplace. One major right you have is the ability to just say, "no."
That's right. You can say no to your employer.
Does that mean you should say no when you get an assignment you don't like? No.
Does it mean you should say no when your supervisor tells you to do something
outside your job description? Probably not. Most of the time, saying no will
get you slapped with discipline or termination for insubordination. But there
are times you should respectfully decline.
Here are some situations where you should definitely exercise the power of
"no" at work:
Severance: I suggest that employees never sign a severance agreement the
day they get it, especially if they're presented with it when terminated.
Instead, tell them you want to review it and take it home. Read it carefully.
If you don't understand it, take it to an employee-side employment attorney.
You should definitely refuse to sign it if you are releasing claims against the
company for minimal dollars, if they are inserting a noncompete provision when
you don't already have one, or if you are being told you have to release claims
when you're already entitled to severance according to an employment agreement
or company severance plan.
Termination papers: You're in your termination meeting. They shove a
paper in front of you stating that you've been terminated and every reason in
the world why you suck. They demand you sign. Don't do it! Why would you? You
don't work for them anymore. They can't make you. What's your upside? If you
feel like there's no harm, then sign, "As to receipt only." Make sure
you aren't agreeing to what they are saying. You aren't thinking straight, so
be very careful.
Resignation: "My employer made me quit." I hear that a lot.
How did they do that? Did they hold a gun to your head. Unless you are being
offered something substantial in exchange for your resignation (or if the gun
scenario really occurs), why would you agree to quit? Make them fire you. At
least then you'll probably qualify for unemployment. If you resign, they may
say you don't qualify. Some people think it looks better on a resume, but who do
you really think you're fooling? Nobody resigns in this economy without having
a job lined up unless there's a real problem. That gap in your resume is going
to be bad, resignation or no. Instead, if they really want your resignation,
get something in exchange for it. Use it to negotiate severance, to get out of
a noncompete, or to get something else you really want. You may need help here,
so now is probably a good time to talk to an attorney rather than jumping into
Admission of a crime: If you're put in a room with Risk Management and
told to sign a paper saying you stole something if you want to save your job,
don't do it! You're admitting to a crime. Never admit to a crime. First
of all, you're fired as soon as you sign. Second, the employer may be entitled
to sue you for the value of the item plus two or three times its value, plus
attorney's fees and costs. It's a trick. Don't fall for it. Practice these
words: "I want to speak with an attorney." Repeat as necessary. By
the way, they can't make you stay in that room. Tell them you want to leave.
Then leave. If they physically stop you, call 911 or scream for help.
Seriously. Then go see a criminal defense attorney.
Demotion or pay cut: If you're given a demotion or pay cut you just
can't live with, sometimes it's better to say no and apply for unemployment. If
you take the job and can't survive on the money, but will be unable to look for
a job while you have the job from hell, then you'll have to quit and probably
are disqualified from getting unemployment. There are times it's best to say
Promotion: If you're offered a promotion that makes you exempt from
overtime, doubles your work, decreases your pay, and the last three guys who
held the job died at their desk, say no. Get the details before you accept that
promotion. Sometimes, overtime pay means you'll make more and have a better
life if you stay where you are.
Release: Severance packages usually come with a release of every claim
you ever had or might have against the company. I see some companies that have
severance plans requiring severance if the employee is laid off that try to get
a release even though you're already entitled to severance. I also see people
with employment contracts that entitle them to severance being asked to sign a
release in order to get it. Say no. Say it again. Run, don't walk, to an
employment lawyer in your state. (Better yet, email them). Why on earth would
you release discrimination or other claims when you don't have to? If they want
that release, make them give you something you want in exchange.
Transfer: You're being asked to transfer across country in the middle of
the school year. Your kids are about to take their SATs, your spouse has a job
they love. Say no! At the very least, make sure you get a contract, including
that they'll pay your moving expenses, help with getting your spouse and kids
situated, and guarantee you a minimum amount of severance if you're fired
without cause. Better yet, negotiate that you can only be fired for cause and get
a specific term of employment for no less than a year. If they won't put enough
guarantees and incentives in writing to make it worth your while, take a pass.
Anything illegal: No job is worth going to jail. And guess who they'll
throw under the bus when Johnny Law comes a-callin'? It's you. Say no. Better
yet, say no in writing. You might want to look at some whistleblower laws to
make sure you're doing what you have to do to protect yourself, or talk to an
employment attorney about your rights.
Polygraph: The Employee Polygraph
Protection Act prohibits most private employers and potential employers
from demanding you take a polygraph, and from firing you if you say no. There
are exceptions, but they are few. Polygraphs are not admissible in court
because they are not reliable. They can say you're lying when you're not. Say
no unless you fall within one of the exceptions. If you committed a crime and
you are told you have to take it or be fired, take the firing and go see a
criminal defense attorney post haste.
These are just some examples of when it's best to exercise the power of
"no" at work. I bet you can think of some more. So go ahead. Say no
to your employer.
See more employment law posts on Donna
Ballman's blog, Screw You Guys, I'm Going Home.
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