laid off and lambasted by boss for not helping out more afterwards

A reader writes:

I had worked for a large company for over 4 years when I was laid off. This layoff was not unexpected, given that my manager and I did not get along the last year of me working there. I had moved 500 miles away to take this job and turned out to hate the area. The position also had no room for advancement and my manager was a nasty micromanager. Most everyone is his department was unhappy, so much so that I stopped going to the closest ladies room due to the high probability of seeing a co-worker sobbing in there. So while I was not thrilled to be unemployed, I was relieved that my time there was coming to an end.

I was told I was laid off at the beginning of the month and that my last day was the end of the month, so I had about 4 weeks notice. I was actively looking for other jobs at the time and had already planned to be out for 3 days for out-of-state job interviews. My boss said that this was fine and he felt I “didn’t have much information to transfer over” so I was free to take whatever time I needed. My boss is just one of a few people I worked for at this organization; there 
are 3 other people on the same level as my boss who I’d work for. These 3 people were very happy with me and my work and, when they found out I was laid off, were extremely upset. One person in particular was very unhappy since I was the only one who had the skills needed to work on her project.

The project she and I worked on had been going on for over 2 years; while she supervised the project, I did all the technical work and, without me, she would pretty much be starting from scratch. My boss 
knew all this, but he didn’t have much respect for this project for
 whatever reason (any project that was not his was a “waste of time,” 
according to him). My boss and the project manager got into a heated
 exchange about all this and they eventually ended up arguing in front
 of the head of the department. I believe the project manager wanted me 
to stay an extra month, although I was not present for this argument, 
just told about the hour-long shouting that was heard by my coworkers.
 This all went down about 2 weeks before I was slated to leave. At this 
point, I was brought into my boss’s office and told that before I 
left, my project manager would have to be taught everything I knew. I
 was told that I’d have to cancel my interview trip and stay late/work
 weekends in order to get all of this done.

I refused. I informed my boss that I would be going on my trip since 
the time was already approved and that it could not be switched 
(interviewing for 3 different companies on 3 consecutive days is very 
hard to arrange). I also stated that I would not be working weekends 
(no one has ever been asked to worked weekends) but would not mind 
working an hour or so extra each day to help out my project manager. 
They were the ones laying me off and to expect me to work my tail off 
the last 2 weeks was unacceptable. I said this all as respectfully as
 possible, while also pointing out that my work was well-documented and
 that I would not mind helping the project manager via email or phone after I
 was gone.

My boss was furious and kept making vague threats about
 writing me up. To say the least, my project manager was also very 
upset and would yell at me when I’d go to leave at the end of the day 
(after about 10 hours straight of work, skipping lunch) saying I 
lacked dedication.

It was probably the worst 2 weeks ever of my 
professional life. The last day of work was such a relief and, I’m 
happy to say, I found a much better job in an area I love a few months 
later (and a pay raise). But I’m still going over what happened,
 trying to figure out what I should have done differently. What would you have done in this situation? Is it common to demand an
 employee work night and weekends after being told they were laid off?
 Should I have cancelled my interviews and stayed late? Any insight
 would be appreciated.

Wow. Your boss and project manager were jerks, and you have nothing to second-guess here.

You don’t lay someone off, tell them to take whatever time they need for job-searching during their remaining weeks, and then suddenly change your mind and tell them to reschedule an already-approved trip. You don’t lay someone off and then tell them to work weekends to transfer their knowledge. And you certainly don’t lay someone off and yell at them or threaten to “write them up” (and who would care about a “write-up” at that point?).

Look, layoffs are sometimes necessary and I’m not on board with the sentiment that companies that do them are always wronging their workers. But when they’re necessary, you handle them as compassionately as possible and you accommodate people to whatever extent you can. You certainly don’t yell at them, regardless of provocation (and there was none here).

The only thing I’d quibble with in your response is that you were too accommodating of bad behavior. I would have liked you to have asserted yourself against these jackasses more — saying politely but firmly, “I intend to work out my final four weeks as you’ve requested, and I will get as much done as I can during my normal work hours, but I’m not able to work weekends or cancel already-approved time off. I also am not willing to be yelled at. I hope you can respect that; if not, let’s discuss moving up my last day, because this won’t work if it continues.”

Also, congratulations on getting a higher-paying job after leaving this place! That’s a nice pay-off.

{ 38 comments… read them below }

  1. Jamie*

    If they wanted your extra time badly enough they could have at least offered a severance package to make it worth your while for the OT and weekends. Although, even if they have you’d have been under no obligation whatsoever to accommodate them. Just saying they could have at least acknowledged that what they were asking was above and beyond (by orders of magnitude) what they were owed.

    No amount of money would have persuaded me to cancel out of town interviews, though.

    Congrats on getting a better job – living well is the best revenge.

  2. Michael C*

    Whoa. I really like the “asserting yourself” advice. As a relatively docile person at work I never would have thought to stand up to my boss/supervisor.

  3. Josh S*

    Was this a layoff (Reduction in Force) or a firing?

    Neither situation makes the actions of the boss/project-manager OK, but it impacts Alison’s “Look, layoffs are sometimes necessary…” paragraph.

    I get the impression that the OP didn’t get along with the boss and was fired. In any case, OP did everything right and that place sounds messed up.

    1. some1*

      My old employer would call them layoffs where the person let go would get severance & unemployment, but, yeah…they were basically canned because someone didn’t like them. However, when they laid people off, you were expected to leave that day, basically as soon as your stuff was packed up.

    2. Hannah*

      I was laid off at a previous job and received a severance and unemployment benefits, all true to the laid off tune. However, my company had a history of “laying off” people they didn’t like, felt were not doing a good job, or didn’t fit in. I have a very strong suspicion that it was not a true lay off — but rather the new VP didn’t like me very much. They didn’t like to actually fire people because they had an instance in their past where they did fire someone and she turned around and sued (victoriously). After that, I think the lay off excuse was more a CYA thing.

    3. OP*

      Hi, OP here. It was a layoff due to a reduction in funding, but I know I was the first to go due to my boss and I not getting along. I’m sure he would have loved to have fired me, but he didn’t have a paper trail to do it.

      1. Josh S*

        Ok. Like I said, his actions are pretty inexcusable regardless. It’s just one of those commonly misunderstood terms, so figured I’d get clarification.

        Glad you’re doing better in your new job!

      2. Long Time Admin*

        Yup, there are always some names that have been at the top of the Next Layoff list, for whatever reason. In my experience, it’s usually because a boss doesn’t like someone, no reason needed.

    4. EM*

      My boss has let go of a couple of people who weren’t working out, and she called it a layoff basically so they could collect unemployment and so they could say they were laid off when asked in interviews.

      I’ve also worked for a large company that had large reductions in force (layoffs). Our department was asked to let one person go. Guess who that person was? The guy who didn’t get along with the boss– they had yelling matches in the office. It was awesome. Thank goodness that was only an internship.

  4. Just a Reader*

    I once left a job that treated me poorly and gave veiled threats for bad references. They badmouthed me to my client base and coworkers anyway and moved me to a dark cube with broken furniture and a dead plant after I gave my notice.

    I am proud of the way I left–I finished my deliverables and sent a nice note out–but if I had it to do over I would have asserted myself the way Alison recommends here. Letting people walk all over you is unnecessary, and once you’ve given notice, they hold no more power.

      1. Charlotte*

        I just had an employee get shuffled to nights after putting in notice to cone work here….not quite as sad as a dead plant but definitely aggravating.

  5. EngineerGirl*

    The ex-boss is angry because he recieved the consequences of his ill-thought-out actions. These people try to scapegoat, and it looks like he did.

    I would perhaps had tried to calm things down with the project manager. Go to her and let her know about the promises made, and goodness, you are sorry it worked out this way, but didn’t choose that path. I suspect she yelled because she was scared at seeing her project fail.

    1. Natalie*

      The only circumstance in which yelling is an acceptable reaction to fear is when you are yelling at someone to get out the way of that charging rhino. No matter what the project manager was told or how they felt, yelling or berating an employee is completely unacceptable, much less yelling at them on a daily basis.

      1. EngineerGirl*

        I’m not saying it is right. Just that the project manager may have lost perspective due to fear.

        1. Natalie*

          The project manager may very well have lost perspective, but I don’t think the OP needs to take responsibility to calming things down with the project manager. If anything, the project manager would be good to approach the OP and apologize for the yelling.

  6. Hugo Stiglitz*

    To the OP: I applaud your tact and keeping your calm in such a nerve-wracking situation. I’m happy that you stuck to your guns and kept the interview schedule that you worked so hard to arrange. And, congratulations on the new job!

  7. Malissa*

    Some days it’s best to jump off the crazy train and not look back. Congrats on the new job!

  8. Anonymous*

    Now this is a person that should have paid extra for training!

    Congratulations on the new and improved job, OP!

    1. Jennifer*

      Exactly my thoughts. What a night and day difference between these two letters. Who knows, maybe the first letter-writer’s situation is similar to this one, but it certainly wasn’t made clear in their letter.

  9. Blinx*

    OP, so glad that you did not change your plans, and that you eventually landed in a better place. Whenever a company goes through a layoff situation, it’s really tough on all involved, and there’s lots of second guessing. Tempers flare, since “the powers that be” pulled the rug out on a lot of unfinished projects, and everyone’s left scrambling. The company wins, but it’s a lose-lose situation for employees all around.

    I was caught up in a massive layoff at my last place, and worked my 2 month notice. It was excruciating. Some people walked out after a week! Did it affect anything? No. They still had excellent references from the many contacts they made at the company, and received all of their severance, bonuses, vacation pay, unemployment, etc. Too funny that your company threatened to “write you up”.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      Oh my goodness, yes! That’s a threat that deserves no better than a “What are you going to do, fire me?” answer.

      1. Blinx*

        Exactly! And I forgot to add, that the people who walked out were also paid the full 2-month notice pay!

      2. OP*

        Yes! I was so close to saying that but held my tongue. I was almost hoping he would “write me up” because I think HR would have been more on my side than his. He used a lot of fear/intimidation to keep people doing what he wanted.

  10. Aaron*

    A hard situation, since when you are about to be laid off it can be financially difficult to quit, but I would have liked to say something to the project manager along the lines of “if you yell at me again I will not be able to explain this project to you further,” and then followed through if yelling continued. At that point, there’s really nothing more they can do to you.

  11. AdAgencyChick*

    HOLY MOLY. So the first post of the day is about an employee who expects too little of him/herself during a transition period (when the employee initiated the termination), and the last post is about an employee who’s being asked way too much of (when the employer initiated the termination)! AAM, did you plan it that way?

    OP, you were 100% right to hold your ground on your trip and not working weekends. To be asked to do that, when you’re not the one who quit, is simply beyond the pale.

    If I were you, I’d speak to HR at your old company to ensure that your ex-boss is spoken to about what kind of reference he is allowed to give. I’m sure you’re not listing this clown as one, but that doesn’t mean someone won’t call him next time you’re job hunting, and I wouldn’t put it past him to say, “She totally checked out during her last four weeks,” entirely neglecting to mention that THEY laid you off and THEY tried to renege on agreements.

    1. Jennifer*

      Quoting above – “OP, you were 100% right to hold your ground on your trip and not working weekends. To be asked to do that, when you’re not the one who quit, is simply beyond the pale.”

      Oh you forgot the best part. OP is not dedicated enough to the company that LAID HER OFF!

  12. Greg Blencoe*

    I think you handled the situation about as well as possible. It’s very disappointing to hear that you were treated that way.

    I believe it’s important to do your best when leaving a job. This applies even when somebody is laid off. I look at doing your best to make a smooth transition as possible “good karma” that will come back to you at some point in the future.

    However, they were demanding WAY too much of you at the end. I’m glad you stood up for yourself and that you are in a much better situation now.

  13. Not Me*

    OP, you handled that so much more gracefully than me. I would have burned some more of the bridge by looking at the manager after he threatened to write me up and said “Gee, maybe someone should have thought about THIS project BEFORE canning me. I bet the dummy who decided I needed to go is kicking himself for not making sure someone knew how to do my job before laying me off. Maybe he will get lucky and get a pink slip for his incompetence”. And then walked back to my desk.

  14. JohnQPublic*

    “I also am not willing to be yelled at. I hope you can respect that; if not, let’s discuss moving up my last day, because this won’t work if it continues.”

    I love Love LOVE this! Professional way to show your fortitude.

  15. Miss Displaced*

    I once worked for a place that gave us 10% pay cuts, were laying off (I was one of those), AND expected us to work overtime and weekends to train our overseas outsourced “replacements.” Nasty.

    The company went out of business 6 months later.

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