Sunday, January 06, 2008


One of my readers in the Midwest got a new job as a paralegal in an attorney's office, having previously held a similar position in a different state.

After three weeks, however, the attorney for whom she worked told her that she didn't meet the qualifications to be a paralegal in the state to which she had moved. The boss explained in an e-mail that, because she had been educated in another state, her qualifications were not up to par.

My reader's resume had clearly stated her education and other qualifications when the attorney hired her, so she found it odd that this should suddenly become a problem. She forwarded the attorney's e-mail to her new state's paralegal professional organization, which confirmed what my reader had suspected: She in fact had all the necessary qualifications to be a paralegal in her new home state.

She forwarded the information from the professional association to her boss, but the results weren't good.

"Upon receipt of this information," my reader writes, "she fired me."

My reader believes that her boss behaved unethically in accusing her of not having the necessary qualifications three weeks after she had been hired for her new job. She wants to know what I think.

After receiving her e-mail, I thought that there had to be more to the story, so I got in touch with my reader. We talked for awhile about her job and what had led up to her dismissal. Soon I had a better sense of the big picture.

What was missing from her original e-mail to me was whether she had noticed any indication that her boss was dissatisfied with her work prior to the point when she questioned her credentials.

It turns out that her boss repeatedly had been critical of the way my reader did her job. It sounded to me like lots of small stuff -- printing out documents to edit them, for example, instead of editing them onscreen, which her boss considered inefficient -- rather than big issues, but clearly the match between my reader and her new boss was a rocky one.

My guess is that her boss had decided to fire her and was using the credentials issue as a face-saving ruse, a way to fire her without having to tell her that she simply wasn't working out. My reader may have been doing a swell job, or may not have been, but either way there was something about the way she did it that irked her new boss.

The boss had every right to fire her employee. Because the job was in an at-will state, one that gives employers pretty wide-ranging ability to fire employees for any reason as long as said reason isn't discriminatory, she could simply have asked my reader to pack her stuff and leave, without providing any explanation whatever.

Hiding behind the excuse of faulty credentials, however, was not fair play. As it happens, her credentials were in order, but -- even if they hadn't been -- the boss had known her new employee's credentials when she hired her. Right or wrong, that excuse wouldn't fly.

If the boss was displeased with her new employee's work, the right thing would have been to tell her so and then, if the problems were unfixable, to dismiss her. By choosing a roundabout method that was, as it happened, factually inaccurate, she clouded the issue unnecessarily. Whatever her rationale, her course of action was dishonest and prolonged the inevitable.

Knowing this doesn't get my reader her job back. But perhaps her questioning will cause her boss to act more forthrightly in the future.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)


uwcharlie said...

This story about the paralegal is a typical example of the state of antagonization that the workplace has turned into. There was a time when the anticipated employee applies for the job and assuming no untoward or incorrect performance,can rely on keeping the job. However, what has developed lately in our litigious society is that when anything happens to experience loss of the job or even disagreement with management, the first thing the employee does, and in this he/she is encouraged by liberal do-gooders, to immediately take the situation to legal or some other type of authority and starts an action against the employer or boss. That this happened in a law firm is not surprising, since the legal profession is the one which teaches our society that whenever you do not agree with some action in life, you are supposed to sue. The first thing the person in this example did was take the case to his/her society and instead, this should have been a situation in which the employer's action should not be questioned. Apparently, there are guidelines that must be followed concerning education in the state in which the employment is desired. Perhaps the employer took longer than need be to remove the employee, but it was not necessary to report this to the employee's society. For sure, this is going to result in negative action against the employee. Also, possibly unstated in this exercise is that the injured employee possibly exhibited performance or attributes that turned off the employer and the education situation was used as an excuse to get rid of the employee. The employee did not fit in and is now free to obtain employment elsewhere. This is a life experience, not an excuse to take legal action against the employer

Steve H said...

"Knowing this doesn't get my reader her job back. But perhaps her questioning will cause her boss to act more forthrightly in the future."

Hmmm ... Excuse my cynicism, but we're talking about a lawyer here, aren't we? Ethics, shmethics! If ethics are what you do when no one is watching, then the law is what you do when everyone is watching. From his perspective, if he did nothing illegal, he did nothing wrong. She's fired, he's over it.

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