my company fired a bad employee, then un-fired him the same day

A reader writes:

Management fired an employee, we’ll call him Mark. Mark is one of our field technicians. His performance is spotty, at best. He frequently calls out, and his attitude frankly sucks. This past week alone, he called out once, didn’t wake up for a night job he was scheduled for (he was off all day to rest beforehand), used the company credit card inappropriately, and gave our dispatcher grief when she tried to send him to a job at 5 pm (techs are assigned jobs up to 6 pm). Mark has always had these issues, but things have gotten worse over the last 3-4 months. Because of all the well-documented reasons above and more, management made the decision to fire him. And he was let go.

Afterwards, my coworker, Dan, went to Mark’s vehicle with him. This is standard — we make sure technicians take all their possessions off the truck and leave the tools and equipment we provided. After a couple minutes, Mark told Dan to “hang on” and “not touch another effing thing” before marching back into the building. Mark then demanded to meet with the manager who fired him, the manager’s direct supervisor, and the company owner to plead his case as to why he should be kept on. I’m not sure what was said, but with all the evidence stacked against him, we all assumed he would be dismissed (since he had already been fired).

Alison … they unfired him. With mountains of documentation of poor job performance, frequent call outs, and a bad attitude, I’m not really sure what they were thinking. Doesn’t it set a bad precedent if management says “Just kidding! This problematic employee said pretty please, so we’re not going to fire him after all”? It’s all employees are talking about today, because we’re all … angry isn’t the right word. Aghast, maybe? Mark is someone we’ve all had at least one issue with. I’m probably more perturbed than most because I work so closely with Mark. Every job he goes to, I process the paperwork and order materials needed. And there is ALWAYS a problem.

It seems petty to ask if I can leave my job over this. I’ve been at the company for five years and, in general, love my work. But I think this instance just demonstrated how ineffectual our management is. Not just in this circumstance, either. This is more a case of the straw that broke the camel’s back, as it were. We frequently joke that the only thing consistent here is the inconsistency of management, which is never a good thing.

So even if the advice is “be like Elsa and let it go,” can you offer advice on how to grapple with this? How do I reconcile a good place to work (usually) with this new info? Am I wrong to think management handled this poorly?

So, in theory, there could be more to this than you know. For example, while Mark sounds Highly Problematic in many ways, if they gave him Specific Reason X for his firing, and Mark pointed out that Specific Reason X happened to conflict with, say, a medical accommodation he was entitled to under the Americans with Disabilities Act, it could explain your company backtracking. That doesn’t mean that someone with ADA accommodations can do whatever they want without risking their job — it definitely doesn’t — but if one specific thing led to the firing, that one specific thing rightly should be scrutinized. There are a whole bunch of other similar scenarios that you wouldn’t necessarily know about. Another example: if Mark had just made a good faith report of harassment or discrimination, firing him right after that would look awfully suspect (especially when none of his bad behavior had been enough to get him fired previously).

Of course, if it happened that way, it would mean your company had acted without legal advice, which is a really dumb thing to do if any of those issues were in play.

Alternately, it could be none of that. Mark might have just pleaded his case and they changed their minds because they suck at managing. Or who knows, maybe Mark has some seriously weird dirt on the company owner and threatened to expose it. You might never know what happened, although I bet you’ll start hearing rumors.

Regardless, though, what you do know for sure is this:

* Your coworker is unreliable, bad at his job, and rude to colleagues, and your company is not holding him accountable for that. They tried but they’re either so weak that they caved to his pressure or they did it so incompetently that it didn’t stick.

* This is part of a pattern of bad management at your company, and you have no reason to think that will change.

Mark is a symbol of that second point, and it’s the second point that really matters. It’s the second point that you have to decide if you’re willing to continue to live with or not. It’s not petty if you decide you’re not.

{ 125 comments… read them below }

  1. ThursdaysGeek*

    Management 101: If a company holds tightly to bad employees, it will lose good employees.

      1. Fikly*

        The is the adult version of what happens to every child who was failed by primary/secondary education simply because they weren’t disruptive, and thus were ignored.

    1. Just Me*

      100%. This happened at OldJob. Every employee who was physically or legally able to quit did, and then the bad employee decided he didn’t like his new, inexperienced manager and also quit. I have no idea how the owner is making it work right now. You don’t have to rage quit on the spot, but it’s a sign of bad management and you should start looking for a new job.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Yep yep yep. I feel like a smaller company cannot afford to do this; if all that’s left eventually are bad employees, then its reputation is going to tank. People are far more likely to complain than they are to praise, and enough bad reviews could sink it.

    3. Cait*

      And I think OP would be well within their right to say this (however diplomatically) the next time they need to report Mark. “I was on a job with Mark today and he did X, Y, and Z which I feel obligated to report since it means the job was done incorrectly/made more work for our staff/made us look bad to our client/etc.. I know this is not the first time there have been issues with Mark but nothing ever seems to be done about it. It’s gotten to the point where I feel like I can’t do my job efficiently and I no longer enjoy working here. I can’t speak for anyone else, but management continually ignoring Mark’s bad behavior has caused me to seriously rethink if I want to stay here.” Of course, don’t say that last part if you aren’t ready to leave, but if enough people say this I think the company will have no choice but to reevaluate how they deal with bad employees or continue to employ their most troublesome employee while everyone else jumps ship.

      1. Cold Fish*

        I don’t think OP needs to wait for Mark to screw up again to say something if they are serious that this is job-leaving-worthy. A “Manager, I may not know the entire story but what I do know is that the decision to keep Mark reflects very bad on this company and has caused me to seriously question if I would like to remain at my job. I have worked closely with Mark in the past and it has caused problems for me. What is Management going to do to so that Mark’s behavior doesn’t cause further problems?”

  2. Scott*

    if there are no consequences for him then there are no consequences for you or the rest of your team. Why would anyone else care about doing their work correctly or treating their colleagues with respect and dignity if he’s shown he can get away with it?

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      Have you seen the tiktok by the guy who was denied a raise 2 years in a row because, while his boss said he was a top-rated employee, she also said his pay was fair market value for his position and that it was below the median value.

      When she had a meeting to call him out on no longer being a top-rated employee he said, “I decided I’m going to become a fair market value employee and put in a below-average amount of effort because that’s what I feel like you pay me to do. You’ve created an environment where there’s no incentive for me to work hard. So I don’t.”

      You earn the employees you have.
      Link in the reply.

      1. Ben Churchill*

        This reminds me of my last job. We all got performance evaluations and pay increases based on said performance. Well, one particular employee was very bad at her job, but had previously gone about our boss’ head to his boss to complain about something. So, when it came time for the annual pay increase, our manager basically gave this person the same amount as if she was a stellar employee because he didn’t want her to cry (she had a habit of that), and then go complain. This did not sit well with the rest of the team, and we all pretty much said, why are we bothering with a performance review if it doesn’t matter?

    2. Heffalump*

      I need to put out a certain amount of effort to look at myself in the mirror, but how my employer treats me certainly makes a difference. I wouldn’t go above and beyond for this company.

      1. Anonymous4*

        I would go — as in, I would go to another company. If they cherish such a bad employee so tenderly as to let him continue his poor performance — sleeping through a night job, misusing the company credit card, giving the dispatcher a load of crap for assigning him a job during working hours, and all the rest of his cute little tricks — then they can have him. But they can’t have me, because I don’t want my reputation besmirched by being associated with a company that keeps someone like that on payroll.

        That’s ridiculous!

    3. tamarack and fireweed*

      Um, that’s not a great take IMHO. I certainly don’t believe I need the constant threat of firing-level consequences, or any consequences really, to do my work correctly (I’m a scientist … I have a good measure of intrinsic motivation, which I would wish for everyone to have) or to treat my co-workers with respect or dignity (I treat everyone with respect, with a few carefully justified exceptions; dignity should be a given).

      A better question would be: Why would anyone remain to an employer that fails so fundamentally at follow-through of decisions, enforcement of respectful mutual treatment by employees, and providing an environment where working conditions are good?

      If the next step from leadership is anything other than “we made a mistake that should absolutely not have happened, we’re looking into our legal options at this point and will make sure this doesn’t happen again” (ie there’s a legal obstacle, or blackmail, and leadership’s hands are somewhat tied) or else an immediate rectification of the situation (ie, the manager was a pushover and the senior team have taken appropriate steps), the OP unfortunately experienced a breach of a very fundamental kind of trust. That’s hard if you otherwise like your management team.

  3. AnonInCanada*

    Only you can decide how these tales of manglement are worth your sanity. Personally, if I’ve seen umpteen examples of mismanagement like this, I’d be looking at updating my resume and getting out of crazytown. Maybe Mark has something on this company that made them “unfire” him. Or management got worried when Mark went saying “something something lawyer sue you to oblivion” and capitulated. Not your circus, not your monkey, unless Mark is an out of control orangutan who drives to into insanity.

    (And yes, I apologize to orangutans and all orangutan lovers if Mark is this bad.)

      1. Corporate Lawyer*

        LOL! Just commenting to express my appreciation of this outstanding Discworld reference.

        1. Trillian Astra*

          Totally offtrack on this post, but I literally JUST started the discworld series this week and am obsessed! why didn’t anyone tell me about this sooner? british sci-fi is my JAM (as evidenced by my commenting name on here)

  4. RJ*

    It’s been my experience that a company that does such a turnaround on a bad employee won’t do a damn thing for a good employee in a bind. This is bad management that will send waves throughout the company that there are no consequences for being a bad employee so long as you have the right person/s in your corner.

    1. publicsectorprincess*

      This has been my experience too. this kind of employer/management relies on good employees to pick up the slack/do damage control for bad employees. There is no slack for good employees to have even normal product of being human blips, like being sick, without pushback of some sort.

  5. Green great dragon*

    I can imagine a situation where Mark said convincingly that he’d been going through some terrible personal issues for the past 3-4 months, but that due to [convincing reason] things would be different now, and he was very sorry for not having brought it up before etc etc. It doesn’t seem likely, and it would still be bad management handling it badly*, but it’s possible. The real key for me is what happens next – if Mark continues to be problematic and nothing happens about it, then you know there are issues.

    *If that was the situation I’m not sure what handling it well would look like, but at least some communication is needed given everyone knows about the temporary firing.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      I can see this. So another lesson for management is you’ve got to communicate with your good employees, but in a way that doesn’t divulge the privacy of your bad employees.

      No: We un-fired Mark because his wife left him 4 months ago, and he’s been trying to handle both childcare and the cancer treatments for his youngest daughter on his own since then. He promises to do better!

      Maybe? Mark has convinced us, that for personal reasons, we should give him another chance. If you have any problems with Mark’s performance from now on, please talk to your manager.

    2. ecnaseener*

      I think the reason you can’t figure out a good way to handle that situation is that if it was *already* handled well, this revelation shouldn’t matter.

      If management has been clear with Mark that he’s in danger of being fired if he doesn’t improve, it’s way too late for him to reveal personal issues and ask for extra understanding. The right way to handle that is “sorry Mark, that sounds tough, I wish you had told us back when we warned you you would be fired! We could’ve worked with you then, but it’s too late now.”

    3. Rose*

      S0 HR once forced me to un-fire someone after forcing me to fire them for a very specific cause. It was horrible and I was a new manager with no idea what to do.

      I had inherited a problem employee, Rob. Rob was smart and could be lovely. He could also be very sloppy and randomly belligerent. One day, after a month of poor performance, I brought him a project with many large, sloppy mistakes and asked him what was going on. His answer was raising his voice and aggressively chewing me out for being “hyper critical.”

      I told HR I wanted to fire him. Rob didn’t show up to work or call in for the next five days. HR insisted that instead of bringing up an established pattern of sloppy work (we had met twice previously about this and I had sent clear follow up emails emphasizing that his performance wasn’t meeting the standard for the role and what I needed from him each time, using AAM scripts) and the fact that he yelled at his boss, we fire him for being a no show “in case he sues.” I pushed back and told HR I wanted to be honest about my reasoning and Rob would never be successful in a law suit given the very tangible mistakes we had on record. HR refused. I told them if they wanted to fire him for that, they could do it themselves.

      When Rob came in the next day, HR brought him and I into a room. They fired him as a no show, as per state law. Rob told me that he had been sick and his doctor had called and left me a message saying he wouldn’t be in. HR asked if this was true. I had no idea what he was talking about. Rob quoted my phone number, which was off by one and actually the company receptionist’s number. HR told Rob he wasn’t fired yet, and ended the meeting to call our receptionist, who confirmed she got a very confusing message and didn’t pass it on because it wasn’t addressed to anyone. HR rep looked at me frustrated and told me she wasn’t sure what to do because she wasn’t sure if this still counted as a no show. I told her she better deal with it. Rob was re-fired the next day for performance issues and his temper. I was furious at HR for the whole thing.

      This was my first year of managing. I still look back and cringe.

      1. Rose*

        Recently no matter what I do all of my comments randomly nest under an arbitrary comment. Sorry to high Jack. :-/

        1. misspiggy*

          It’s a great comment nonetheless. Illustrates how woolly thinking and cowardice causes major problems. Good on you for standing your ground!

  6. Shiba Dad*

    I dealt with a similar situation. I was an assistant foreman in the shipping department of a manufacturer. The foreman and I tried to fire a bad employee, only to have the plant manager put the kibosh to it. Shockingly, this made the bad employee worse. The plant manager eventually fired this guy a few weeks later.

    1. CreepyPaper*

      Yeah my husband had the same thing at his job (he works in logistics like me) where a driver was fired by Husband (his manager) for fiddling paperwork then unfired the same day because someone in upper upper management said ‘well actually no, we’ll keep him because we’re short staffed.’

      Husband had to leap through many hoops before the driver was fired, all the while still fiddling his paperwork, and as Husband was escorting him to his car after the firing the driver said ‘bloody foreigner, go back to where you came from’ (my husband is Polish) so he’s now blacklisted by that company and several others on the same site.

      1. Johanna Cabal*

        I’ve run into the but-we-need-bad-employee-due-to-the-heavy-workload mindset. I guess senior management thinks that a poor job is better than no job as long as it gets done?

        But what happens is that the workload increases for that employee’s manager and the good employees because then they have to clean-up after Bad Employee.

        1. TypityTypeType*

          Yep, I had a manager in a short-staffed department hang on to a really terrible employee — aside from general ineptitude and determined uncoachability, they clearly loathed the job and every one of us — because he was afraid he’d lose the budget for the position and not be able to replace them.

          When the situation had gotten out of hand and morale in our little pod was on the floor, he *finally* let them go (interestingly, they were relieved rather than resentful). And upper management instantly declared there was no budget to fill the position. Somehow they had the money to keep someone of destructive incompetence on board indefinitely — but no money to hire somebody better.

          Just one of the many ways bad employees are so, so hard to get rid of.

        2. NeutralJanet*

          Sometimes a bad employee is someone who takes twice as long as most to complete the same work, which can mean that keeping them might be the best thing to do due to a heavy workload if hiring is difficult, though it can be bad for morale if the rest of the team is expected to do a full workload and sees someone else doing half the workload. A lot of bad management struggles to see the difference between those bad employees, who aren’t “bad” so much as “underperforming”, and these bad employees, who are actively making everything worse, especially if management isn’t too involved in the day-to-day work.

          1. Heffalump*

            I can’t find the link offhand, but I saw an article in the last few years about a similar issue. It may or may not have been by Alison. If it was, she would have linked to it on AAM. The LW said his office had a terrible employee, but because of the head office’s policies, if the employee quit or was fired, the company would take a very long time to replace him, assuming that they even did so at all. The phrase that stuck with me was, “Instead of slow, reluctant work, we’ll have no work.” The LW leaned towards firing the guy, even though they would have had to pick up the slack. The columnist agreed.

            1. NeutralJanet*

              For sure, depending on how slow the employee is, it might be the best idea to fire them even if the workload is very high and hiring is very slow, but at least in that case, there’s a reasonable argument to be had for choosing slow, reluctant work, and I think that’s what a lot of managers are thinking of when they don’t fire a bad employee because they’re shortstaffed.

          2. Recruited Recruiter*

            My company has a few “underperformers” and they show up consistently, and do the job well, but just do it slowly. They have all been moved to a role where slow work works. We just fired a “bad” employee this week. Committing a felony on the clock really makes the “mostly good” work really look less valuable. You’re absolutely right that there is a difference. The slow employee still does good work that exceeds his cost. The bad employee causes problems that outweigh the work done.

          3. perstreperous*

            I’ve had two instances where an employee on a PIP had (in my opinion) false, positive answers on their performance given by a project because of “well, they can do something”.

        3. Mother of Corgis*

          This. I do HR for a construction company, and we have several equipment operators that we hire back because “they’re good operators.” Yeah, they might be good operators when they choose to show up, which is maybe half their scheduled shifts. We end up needing to hire extra people to cover in case these “good operators” don’t show up, because the site foreman needs to keep on schedule. Plus many of them work a month or so (if that) until they get a higher rate somewhere else and bail at a moment’s notice. The actual good employees get fed up with these others getting away with everything and start leaving, and we end up in a constant state of short handedness.

          1. NewBoss2016*

            This is 100% accurate. Same industry and same type of workers here. This exact cycle repeats once or twice a year.

        4. Not a mouse*

          I’m living this right now. Minimally Competent Coworker (we shall call them MCC) is our main Balloon Animal Inventory Specialist, so they do Balloon Animal Inventory 5 days a week. I usually do it the other two days. This task should take 4-6 hours most days but I find it often takes me longer. I had noticed that when MCC goes on vacation and I do it 5 days (and some other people do it the remaining 2 days), I get faster. I had thought this was simply because I get in more of a groove and therefore get faster simply because I’m doing it more regularly. But recently I’ve realized that’s not all it is. It’s also that after the first couple of days of MCC’s vacation, I’m not fixing all the stuff they messed up and finishing all the stuff they didn’t do. And I spend other time fixing their stuff or helping them even on my other workdays when I have other assignments. It is so, so annoying.

          Then there was the time when MCC had been spoken to about some of the things they do incorrectly or not at all. They complained to me about this and announced, “well, fine, I will just do X from now on.” Their tone was clearly saying, “fine, I will engage in malicious compliance and just do X and we’ll see how they like it when I do!” Except just doing X isn’t malicious compliance, it’s literally what they should be doing! MCC can’t even get malicious compliance right…

          Not only do I think that part of the reason MCC hasn’t been fired is that we are short staffed, it’s also part of why they were hired. The other candidate already worked at our location, so hiring them would have left us still down a person. MCC transferred from another location, giving us another FTE immediately.

        5. Alternative Person*

          Exactly this. At my previous job in a tutoring centre, the first two weeks after coming back from a holiday would be spent unpicking the messes my colleagues had left in their wake. And that was me taking a one week break! This was despite leaving detailed instructions, materials and extension material. When I complained, I got ‘Well you can’t force them to do it’. I mean, sure, but they had the instructions and print outs in front of them. Plus, it’s their job. Surely going off plan is more work than following it?

          I was privately very amused when one previously recalcitrant student complained to me that their substitute had spoken to them in the local language rather than English the entire time.

      2. WantonSeedStitch*

        OT, but your name made me giggle like mad when I read it in Kayvan Novak’s voice.

  7. Jora Malli*

    Something really similar to this happened at a place where I used to work. There was one lackluster employee who was out a lot and passed off work to other people and was generally confrontational and defiant. His manager wanted him gone and didn’t want to let enough time pass to document enough instances of this behavior to warrant a termination. Instead, he made up a new rule that nobody else followed, wrote the bad employee up for not following it, and made the write-up stern enough that HR would agree that it was egregious rule breaking that should result in termination. The guy was fired, filed an appeal with documentation that proved that no one else (not even the manager who fired him) was following the rule he was fired for not following, and got his job back.

    I don’t know if something along those lines happened at OP’s workplace, but the lesson I learned from the situation is to not ever include something in an employee’s termination paperwork if you don’t have ironclad evidence to back it up.

    1. Smithy*

      While obviously working with a poor performer can be irritating, frustrating, demoralizing, etc – issues like what you mention are often part of a larger reason to leave because it’s usually part of a larger management pattern that’s worrisome.

      The manager that doesn’t want to take the time to document/create the PIP that’s needed for termination indicates an unwillingness to do that management work or a workplace where its overly onerous – or a combination of the two. Is that behavior mirrored in promotions or advocating for the team? Do staff who get promotions/advancement do so via workarounds or other “easy” methods that don’t necessarily correlate with traditional promotion tracks?

      The answer can always be that this is just a bad one-off by the manager and someone still wants to leave because of it. But if this is just part of a larger workplace pattern, then that’s when this is part of a larger problem and not just a disappointing incident.

    2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      This is the stuff I don’t get with “at will” employment.
      You can be let go any time for any reason, except when there are actual reasons and then the lowest level manager has to take on the part time job of monitoring and recording everything this person does.
      I do not get it.

      1. Jean*

        THIS. Why do we read so many posts on here from competent people who got fired for ridiculous/specious reasons, alongside so many others like this where it’s apparently an insurmountable burden to fire someone who is terrible at the job and a toxic influence to boot? It boggles the mind.

        1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

          Because in a well structured company where management is trusted to make hiring and firing decisions, there will be a few people who abuse that ability.

          And in poorly structured companies where management gets every hiring and firing decision questioned, there will be a lot of people who just aren’t willing to put in the time and effort.

        2. Lexie*

          Let’s say the reason for termination is not ethical. It’s not exactly illegal to terminate them but if that is the stated reason it could bring scrutiny the company doesn’t want. So you fired them for some BS reason instead and while they may suspect the real reason they can’t prove it.

        3. Autumnheart*

          Especially when the people who complain about the poor performer are the ones who get fired for ridiculous reasons because they “caused trouble”.

      2. Evan Þ*

        Some companies use all their legal rights, and fire people for any reason or no reason at all. So, we hear about people being fired who shouldn’t have been.

        Other companies put in place policies that people can only be fired for a good reason, and there need to be specific steps beforehand. That’s usually a good thing. Unfortunately, not all of these policies are well-designed, and not all managers use them well. So, we also hear about people not being fired who should’ve been.

        The point we usually don’t hear is that those two sorts of story are from two different sorts of companies.

  8. Sparkles McFadden*

    “It seems petty to ask if I can leave my job over this.”

    LW, you can leave any job for any reason at any time. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. Usually, the real question is: “Should I do this or should I stay put and hope things get better?” The answer to that question is: Start searching for a job. Sometimes, just starting a job search makes you feel better about everything because you are taking action in a situation where you feel powerless. Sometimes, the result of the job search is that you decide to stay put because the pros outweigh the cons.

    Your concern over this is justified and not at all petty. In situations where bad employees who aren’t held accountable for their action, their bad behavior will escalate. Start looking for a new job.

    Best of luck!

    1. Daffy Duck*

      Go ahead and start searching now! You don’t owe it to current company to stay. You can take your time and wait for an offer with more money/shorter commute/better working conditions/etc.
      When you leave be sure to tell them you are tired of working with Mark.

    2. Budgie Buddy*

      Adding: OP does not have to “ask” anyone but herself. I’m not even sure if she meant ask her bosses or ask an internet advice columnist. Either way, no permission is necessary.

  9. kiki*

    Leaving due to poor management is probably one of the least petty reasons for leaving out there. If the Mark situation were the only complaint, I might advise you not to leave a job it seems you love otherwise, but it seems like there are a litany of management issues. I wouldn’t necessarily run from this job, but I’d start putting my feelers out for places that seem like they’re managed well. If you do leave, you can still bring up the Mark situation and management issues, even a significant amount of time has passed.

    I also think you don’t have to wait to quit to voice your displeasure with management issues. It’s possible management is so dysfunctional that they will never change no matter what they hear, but I would voice my concerns and encourage my coworkers to do so as well. I’d highlight the costs of poor management and how it prevents good employees from performing as well as they could.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      IMO, half the time I’ve left companies it was due to bad management. Most of the rest were layoffs.

      It is perfectly fine to leave bad managers, no matter what you tell future interviewers or the prior company. It’s somewhat axiomatic that people leave bad managers more than any other reason. The management at your company directly influences how your job goes.

      Good luck whatever you chose.

    2. Cedrus Libani*

      Agreed. If you take satisfaction in a job well done, but management seems to be going out of its way to make sure you do shoddy work, it’s absolutely reasonable to look for something better.

      In the short term, if you’re paying for my time, you’re entitled to waste it. You don’t want to fire Mark, so it’s now my job to clean up after his continual screw-ups instead of…y’know, doing my actual job that you hired me to do? Sure thing, boss. In the long term, I’ve had jobs where it was just structurally impossible for me to do work that I was proud of, and it messed with my head. No thank you on doing it again. I’m much happier when I’m allowed to be good at stuff.

      1. Caro*

        “I’ve had jobs where it was just structurally impossible for me to do work that I was proud of, and it messed with my head.”

        Thank you, I havn’t been able to put that feeling into words. That hit me kind of hard – but in a good way.

  10. Bald Billy*

    Not sure if it is because of sleep deprivation, but when I read the title, I thought it said “My company fired a BALD employee…” While reading the letter, I kept wondering when his baldness was going to come into play and was amped to see how his baldness got him un-fired. I’m very bald, so I really needed to know and am now extremely disappointed. Ha!

  11. animaniactoo*

    LW, I just wanted to tell you that you don’t need permission to leave your company.

    If your question is whether this is a level of dysfunction that means it makes sense to leave, because other places are not that bad – and you are essentially asking are other places really not that bad, that’s a different question.

    But this was your question:

    It seems petty to ask if I can leave my job over this

    And I want to tell you that if you don’t like the carpet in your cube and you know it’s not going to change, the only person’s permission you need to leave for another job is yourself. To weigh the pros and cons yourself, as the only person who knows how much it bothers you and understands the true impact on your daily work life.

    If your question was whether this was unusually dysfunction or common but dysfunctional enough to be a problem and worth trying to find a place that is less dysfunctional because they exist… then the answer is probably.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Take it from me, it’s not petty to see a situation and think, nope, not for me.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      Yes. If you decide that a poor bagel selection is the thing that really matters to you, that is enough reason to look for a job that seems dedicated to superior bagel options for employees. It can be your thing and not matter to anyone else.

      You could prioritize the job being close to your kid’s school, or allowing cats, or letting you leave early on summer Fridays, or providing offices with doors–if that changes, this doesn’t have to be an obvious make-or-break thing for everyone, just be enough for you to look elsewhere.

  12. Colin R*

    I had a co-worker, Rickon, who was useless. He literally got nothing done, and his manager, Ned, wanted to fire him. However, Ned’s boss, Rickard wouldn’t fire anyone, ever.

    Eventually, he found another job (somehow) and quit. Everyone was happy.

    A month after he left, while his old boss Ned was on vacation, Rickon was rehired by Rickard. Everyone showed up early to work the day Ned returned from vacation just to see his face.

    I have lots of stories from that place.

    1. Goldenrod*

      Ugh! This is one of the worst mistakes (in my opinion) that managers (frequently!) make.

      They think they are being “nice” by not holding the low-performer accountable. But actually, all it does is drive out the high performers, whose jobs are made so much harder by this “nice” decision.

      And then, eventually, you end up with a whole office full of low-performers.

  13. NoiShin*

    I had to deal with this sort of situation all the time where I used to work. Not so much employees being un-fired as “we are so shorthanded in this department that we can’t afford to let anyone go under terms that aren’t their own.” Funnily enough, I didn’t feel that supported when working alongside someone who had a tendency to give up his shifts to others, then complained that they weren’t scheduling him for enough hours. Or the guy who spend at least 1 hour of each shift talking on his phone. In front of management.

    1. Johanna Cabal*

      I replied to a comment above that all this does is give the good employees more workload because then they have to clean up after the poorly performing employee.

  14. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    The corollary to this, the company that concedes to an employee like this expects the other functional human beings in the work place to accommodate this jackass. The letter from Monday about looping in coworker, specifically or search the archives for “broken stair.”

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      “Mark is unreasonable, so we obviously can’t expect him to change. Everyone else, as reasonable people it is now your job to accommodate Mark’s unreasonableness.”

      1. Casper Lives*

        I didn’t know my father was here!

        JK he’s been unemployed for years. It’s totally not his fault though.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          Yeah, I was at the last meeting of “the world conspiring against him.”
          We were all there, everyone of us. We agreed. He will not get the job.

      2. Dave*

        Been there! I even offered to do Mark’s job and my job just not deal with Mark’s unreasonableness. (It would have been work but I could have.) They kept Mark. I got a new job and don’t need blood pressure medicine anymore.
        Seriously look and explore your options. Take your time. Find the right job not just another job.
        A company with bad management ime rarely changes enough and even if Mark leaves tomorrow it doesn’t mean a new one doesn’t pop up next month.

  15. L-squared*

    This is really just a matter of if you feel this is enough to leave a job over. But it really sounds like Mark isn’t your issue, he is just the personification of your overall issue with management. Leaving because of bad management is pretty normal. So just weigh out everything else and make the best decisions for you.

  16. EmmaPoet*

    Management is OK with employees who are unreliable, bad at their job, and rude.

    That’s “start quietly job hunting” sign to me. And no, it’s not petty.

  17. anonymous73*

    Regardless of WHY they un-fired Mark, your company has a bad management problem. They documented the issues – that’s a good start. Did they give him repeated warnings and lay out the consequences (i.e. losing his job)? Or did they just get fed up and fire him out of the blue? Or did they document and warn, and let him back peddle his way back into his job? Either way, it’s bad management. I would get my resume ready and get out as soon as you can. If you can’t trust management to discipline problematic employees properly, how can you trust them to have your back when you have an issue that requires help?

  18. Chilipepper Attitude*

    I suspect Mark knows where the bodies are buried.

    I honestly wonder if he would tell you if you asked him how he convinced them to rehire/not fire him? Purely for my own amusement, I wish you would ask him and let us know the answer!

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      We had someone who worked in an adjacent department that we all swear must have had some dirt on someone. She had a title significantly higher than what she was doing or the level she was performing at and she was a nightmare to work with and for – everyone who ever worked for her quit, and everyone who ever worked with her had a horror story to tell. Years into her reign of terror, upper management decided to transfer her to another role of her choosing and just fold the entire department (which at the end only comprised of her because everyone else left). This department was desperately needed but rather than even risk giving the appearance of replacing her or letting her go from her initial role, they just decided instead to spread the responsibilities to a bunch of other departments (who did not have the time or desire to take these on). Once she left of her own accord a few years later, job recs for that department were opened almost immediately and the department is in the process of finally being re-established.

      I’m not putting on my tinfoil hat but it sure does seem like something fishy was going on with her.

    2. Jonquil*

      Problem employees like Mark are often real sea lawyers too – they know every paragraph of the employee handbook and the relevant employment legislation and are not afraid to argue the point.

  19. JSPA*

    The Marks of the world tend to keep track of anything the company does wrong…has been warned about…and has continued to do wrong.

    Wrong gauge of wire. Wrong curing time for the spray. Wrong sort of backdoor in the code. Outdated reporting sheet / wrong compliance code for Very Important Financial Information.

    The details change with the job, but, “Mark knows something more substantive than personal dirt” is a constant. My guess is that he got as far as the truck, looked at a tool, the tool reminded him of some such Ace in the hole, and that’s when he marched back in.

    OP, keep an eye out for some sort of “free maintenance” or “safety assessment and upgrade” being offered to past customers. If that happens shortly, that’s the tell, on what happened.

    Another option is, “Mark told them that having taken money to preserve his job, they can’t fire him.” (Not true, but eh, they may fall for it anyway.)

    Another option is, Mark told them he’s leaving in a couple of months, anyway, and that if they let him resign in good time, and with a good rec, he won’t fight them for unemployment and make their life hell for the heck of it. (Quite possibly not true, but eh, they may fall for it anyway.)

    And yes, there’s “Mark is only now disclosing that he has a serious health condition, and they’re taking pity” or some other argument about why now is not a good time. But I’ve met Mark too often to make that my first guess.

  20. DanniE*

    …Mark is an undercover cop doing some sort of investigation and flashed his badge to management to make them keep him on??? Obviously his frequent call-outs are for following suspects and sneaking into unoccupied offices. :P
    Seriously though, what makes management turn around their decision so fast? This is weird and I’d be looking for other signs of bad management decisions to see if this might be a reasonable one that you just aren’t privy to, or if they often flip-flop in their decisions or are collectively a doormat.

    1. lcsa99*

      Ha! I like this one. But I don’t think he would have gotten as far as the truck if that were true. He would have stopped them right in the middle of the initial firing meeting and it would never have gotten as far as the walk of shame.

      I still think he had dirt on the big boss. He kept hoping it wouldn’t get that far and when it did, he brought the big boss into that last meeting, made it clear he would spill it right there and then if he didn’t undo the firing.

  21. Lusara*

    “It seems petty to ask if I can leave my job over this.”

    You can leave your job for any reason you want.

  22. Free Meerkats*

    One thing that may help you maintain sanity while job hunting is to stop doing anything that helps Mark. If he messes up paperwork, send it back to him to fix. If he requests the wrong parts and you know, order the ones he requested. In short, let him be responsible for all his own shortcomings. Yes, jobs won’t get done on time; but sometimes you just have to let someone fail.

  23. Sara without an H*

    OP, you’ve been there five years, and the only consistency is that management is inconsistent. (And ineffective.) Why they chose to retain Mark isn’t really relevant. The fact is, they’re not competent and aren’t going to change.

    It isn’t “petty” to clean up your resume and see what else is out there. You don’t have to do anything fast, but do start. You’ll feel better. Check out the AAM archives for good information on cover letters, resumes, and search strategy.

  24. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    There was lots of documentation, but I wonder if they’d never put him on a PIP or given a warning? It doesn’t matter if there is a mountain of evidence, unless the infraction is so egregious that it warrants immediate firing, there are still processes to go through before firing someone.

    1. InsufficientlySubordinate*

      Not necessarily. It’s best practice to do so, but, for non-contract jobs(union jobs I would consider a contract), in the USA, PIP or a warning isn’t a necessity to firing someone.

    2. Midwest Teacher*

      Not necessarily. There have been plenty of times when Alison has noted that an employee’s behavior warrants immediate firing.

      1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

        Correct, which is why the comment includes this: “unless the infraction is so egregious that it warrants immediate firing” ;)

  25. Jax*

    Or, the company let this employee borrow money and he still needs to pay it back through pay check withdrawals.

    This frequently happened when I worked for a local manufacturer. The owner’s wife handled the HR/payroll decisions. She would give employees advances, and when the plant manager tried to fire a terrible employee, he’d find out that he couldn’t because the employee owed a debt and needed to work it off first.

    This was one of those terrible, “We’re like a family!” companies and I’m sure she did it to 1.) help someone with a sob story out, and 2.) build “loyalty.” All it did was frustrate the plant manager until he finally had enough and quit.

  26. KellifromCanada*

    I would bet money that Mark went in with a sob story. My so-and-so family member has cancer and I really need my pay to support the family, or some such thing.

  27. LGC*

    …so can we get the employee from the previous letter to go to this company? Sounds like they’d fit well together.

    I’m surprised they backtracked, though…based on the inappropriate use of the company credit card. That seems like it’d be worth an immediate termination on its own, on its face. I mean, I get Alison’s arguments as to why they could have backtracked, but…like, if it’s not embezzlement, it’s embezzlement-adjacent? (And okay, if he’s using it to buy Starbucks, then that’s slightly different than using it to buy a flat-screen TV or a Peloton or something of that nature. But the point still stands.)

    1. anon thx*

      With the credit card, it will depend on what actually happened. Early in my career, Boss A almost fired a colleague, Jim, over “inappropriate use of the company credit card”…until it became painfully clear that Boss B had asked Jim to make that purchase. The left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing.

      I’ve also seen people purchase a coffee or a sandwich on the company credit card as a genuine accident, because their private credit card looks either identical or extremely similar.

  28. Anon87*

    Yeah, there’s likely more to this one that you’re aware of, OP. Bad management is definitely a factor in this, either way, of course.

    It could be that Mark knows where all the bodies are buried. But I’d say there’s something more serious at play, like workplace bullying or discrimination, wage theft, or a massive management screw up regarding legal accommodations for medical or other reasons. As Alison said, there’s probably a level of legality involved in this: whatever your management has used to try to fire Mark, they’re worried they’ve fallen outside the bounds of what’s legal.

    Depending on how long Mark’s work performance has been lacking might be a good indicator of what’s actually going on, too. In my experience, if he was adequate or good previously, and now there are issues, it’s often workplace bullying, a medical/family issue, or wage theft.

    If he was never adequately trained in the first place, and/or procedures, policies and laws haven’t been followed, whether he’s a newer employee or not, management would also be pretty stupid to fire him.

  29. Emilia*

    To me this sounds like Mark had a strong case – I’m guessing something legally binding like union backing, protection for whistle-blowing, or some discrimination case – that made him so confident as to march in and demand a last meeting. I don’t think he would do that if he was preparing to tell a sob story. Black-mailing seems less likely, wouldn’t one normally do that 1-1?
    Either way, it does sound kind of hopeless. Can OP request to stop working with Mark? If everybody hates Mark maybe they can’t technically fire him, but maybe he can be frozen out in such a way that he quits eventually. Not saying this is a good way to do things, but in places with strong unions it’s sometimes the only way.

    1. irene adler*

      I’m thinking along these lines as well.
      Maybe management did not follow their own rules regarding how to fire an employee. Mark
      did go out to the vehicle with the intent of returning company equipment but then went back in to speak with the manager, grand boss and owner. To me, he probably realized then that company failed to follow their rules for termination of employment and went back in to tell them so. That realization reversed the firing.

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        Shades of Percival who didn’t tell Wakeen his wife was in surgery, didn’t something along those lines happen there?

  30. J*

    This happened to me at a previous job, being the coworker shocked when they un-fired my coworker. I understood that there were other management issues and oddities that allowed for the reversal. But I also realized I didn’t want a place that disrespected other coworkers that way. I found another job within weeks. Half the team was gone before this coworker retired. Only one team member is still there and it’s because she successfully sued the employer in the process of being mistreated by that coworker and she’s working to maximize her settlement agreement as it pertains to her retirement package.

  31. Lizzie (with the deaf cat)*

    Dear OP, Mark will be insufferable from now on. He knows he is untouchable. Don’t let your own self believe you must put up with it.
    Start your research into a new place that values its good staff, is in easy walking distance of home, pays well, and has at least one office cat (your requirements may vary!). Best wishes to you for your successful move.

  32. nowt*

    Bad management is clearly at play here. I’d definitely start looking for a new job, LW.

    For management to unfire Mark, they have obviously screwed something up, big time, and they’re probably worried they’re doing something illegal in firing him. While the issues you mention are frustrating, the only one of real impact or concern is probably the use of the company credit card, but that will depend on the context: what was purchased, how much it was, if there was a direction or precedent in place, if it’s happened before, if there is a reasonable explanation (eg: the company credit card looks identical to Mark’s own), etc.

    Was Mark previously a much better performer? There is every possibility that Mark is just a workplace jerk, but in my own experience, workers only tend to act this way if they are a protected species of some sort (eg: the boss’ son), if there is a very serious problem outside of work (that management should be on top of), or if there is a discrimination, bullying or underpayment of wages issue. Mark may also never have been trained or supported adequately, especially if he’s a newer employee.

    Not to excuse Mark’s behaviour if he did berate your colleague, but if was angry at being given a job at 5pm, it could be a medical or other accommodation issue that has not been adequately communicated to all relevant staff. (They don’t need to know the details, just the fact that Mark shouldn’t be assigned jobs after 5pm.)

  33. disconnect*

    Oh dear LW no the job is full of bees. Shop your resume around, you can find a much better place that will give you the working environment you need and deserve.

  34. Poor Elsa's Always Misinterpreted*

    And, for the record, Elsa didn’t let it go. She. Let. It. Go. Let the storm rage on! =>

  35. Jim Halberd*

    Pretty much this exact situation occurs in Season 2 Episode 5 of THE OFFICE (US version). Your manager doesn’t happen to be named “Michael Scott…?”

  36. anon thx*

    Jeez! I’m not a gambler, LW, but I’d bet there’s a lot of extra stuff going on in the background here that you’re not privy to. And lucky you! Because it’s probably brain-melting.

    If this is anything like a few similar workplace messes I’ve seen over the years, management has screwed up legally-required accommodations on medical or other grounds, and there could possibly be some managerial bullying and underpayment/non-payment of wages and entitlements thrown in for good measure.

    I would definitely update your resume and look for a new job. I’ve worked in management and in HR. No matter how inconvenient the truth may be, nine times out of ten, no matter how difficult or incompetent a colleague may be or seem, the fault lies with management. Poor training, mistreatment, underpayment, bad processes and related documentation, and just plain old incompetent management is usually what it comes down to. Unless you are in a very fortunate minority, management is not your friend. And if they’ve turned on Mark, they’re just as likely to turn on you, no matter how good or bad you are at your job.

  37. LibraryLady*

    So I haven’t read the other comments, but I do want to toss this story out there for OP.

    I too, once worked with someone who was Highly Problematic. She was exceedingly rude to the customers, did not allow herself to be properly trained, refused to do anything she felt was beneath her (even though these were tasks that we all did) and just all around treated people like crap. She was unstable to the point that after she left I was genuinely worried for a few months she would return with a weapon.

    My manager did his due diligence, documented the daylights out of her escapades, and successfully petitioned to have her let go. My coworker was called into a meeting with Big Boss and told the bad news. We all knew it was happening. Imagine our surprise….when she showed up the next day. She wasn’t quite “fired then un-fired”, but our boss told us what was happening. That meeting she was called into was for her to be let go. Somehow she talked her way out of it. I’m wasn’t privy to the details, but basically she managed to get herself one last chance.

    The very next day, The Very Next Day people, she was right back out on the customer service desk, talking to our boss like he was a lowly peon. To be fair, he was actually a jerk of massive proportions who was later fired himself for creating a hostile work environment, but that’s another story for another day. I don’t know about ya’ll, but if I managed to talk my way out of being fired, you would see a 180 turn around in my behavior immediately. And I absolutely wouldn’t be speaking to my boss like a piece of trash right after that.

    The moral of this story? She got herself permanently fired two weeks later.

    Hang on my friend, your co-worker may not last yet.

  38. tinybutfierce*

    Reminds me of one of my last awful customer service jobs, a local coffee shop with godawful owners. One afternoon, one of the kitchen staff (who was one of several dudes who regularly sexually harassed the female employees), got in a full on fistfight with another employee. The fight started in the kitchen, was loud enough to attract customer attention, was broken up by the owners and other staff, and eventually started up again on the sidewalk right outside the store before being broken up again; the one employee was fired.

    Showed up the next morning, dude who had been fired was back at work; nothing was ever said about it again.

    The same place also fired and re-hired the another guy TWICE within a few months, because he would regularly show up for an opening shift super late, meaning the shop had to open late.

  39. raida7*

    I would suggest you go to your manager plus the next person up the chain and say that you just need to know what the rules are in regards to Mark.
    As in, he’s kept his job, do you need me to document all a, b, c things when they occur? Does Mark now have a clear agreement that x, y, z are not acceptable and he’ll be terminated due to them?

    Just framing it as “So obviously Mark’s not great, how do I perform my job with him because *obviously* you’ve made a decision that takes into account future work.”
    You’ll find out for sure what’s going on, and they’ll know for sure that staff really want to understand how someone is just un-fired if they argue.

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