After the quiet finish, here comes the quiet firing


There’s been a lot of fuss lately about “quiet quitting” — aka “working to rule,” “lying flat,” or otherwise refusing to go beyond what you’re paid to do at your job. Quiet quitting seems like a sensible retreat from the hustle and bustle around the clock to many. But for others, quitting quietly means disengaged employees shy away from all but the bare minimum of effort and don’t expect — or care — that their employers might fire them for it.

“Quiet quietly” doesn’t really mean quitting. Here are the signs.

But when we accuse workers of silent termination, we should also recognize the phenomenon of “silent termination”, whereby employers avoid doing anything but the bare minimum required by law, possibly with the aim of inducing unwanted workers to quit.

They can refuse raises for years, fail to provide resources while piling up demands, provide feedback meant to frustrate and confuse, or grant privileges to employee selection based on vague, inconsistent standards of performance. If you don’t like it, you’re welcome to leave.

The work-from-anywhere business model offers opportunities for both quietly giving up and quietly firing. As I recently discussed, some telecommuters are moving away from work distance for personal reasons. And some employers are downsizing and relocating their office space for business reasons. When employers or employees make these changes without due regard for the disruption caused by the other party, it appears as if they are challenging each other to terminate the employment relationship.

Questions from a few readers lead me to ask: What, if anything, do movers owe their workers? Is the turnover of workers who cannot adapt just another form of silent dismissal?

Bosses are serious about Labor Day RTO deadlines. Probably.

Reader 1: My employer requires us to return to the office at least three days a week, but during the pandemic they have moved the office to a new location that is not near public transit, meaning I have to drive in an inconvenient commute across the Bay (I used to take a ferry but now I would have to walk several miles from there to get to the new office). The response was essentially “bad luck, kiddo,” but those who left the area are still allowed to work fully remotely.

I’m wondering if I have any option other than canceling. I’m nearing retirement so I’m also wondering if they hope I’ll follow the advice.

Karla: If your employer has managed to keep you working remotely for most of the past two years and others are still working remotely full-time, it’s unclear why they’re suddenly making you work three-fifths of the week, or at all, in the new one need space . If you’ve raised this issue with management and they don’t make an effort to balance the difficulties or adjust the requirements, that certainly indicates they aren’t worried about losing you.

You could call their bluff and continue to work exclusively from home – but that could give them an excuse to fire you.

If they refuse to make any concessions in order to force you into early retirement, that might be illegal but difficult to prove. If you can somehow demonstrate that employees of a certain age, race or nationality are being denied a disproportionate amount of flexibility or are suffering difficulties as a result of this move, you may be able to claim some latitude for the return to office requirement. An employment lawyer could help write a letter to convince your human resources team that flexibility is the best policy.

Jackson Hole: Where Fed officials congregate and workers can’t afford to stay

Reader 2: I was hired last year by a company that had an office 20 minutes from my home and another in a city over an hour. I have been working remotely during the pandemic and was told that when it reopened I would be able to choose which office I would work from. Of course I had the local office in mind.

The company recently sold the local office building, leaving only the city site. I have the option to continue working from home most of the time, but it’s been tough on my mental health – I really need to get out of the house. Would I be eligible for unemployment if I stop to look for other local jobs?

Karla: Depending on your state, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits if you are fleeing working conditions so hostile or unsafe that they have essentially forced you to be fired (aka “constructive firing”). But I wouldn’t stop until you have a more solid source of income – ie another job – in hand.

Assuming your employer isn’t trying to quietly fire you, a third option may be available. Flexible workspaces, ranging from dedicated desks to entire floors of offices, are increasingly available for rent and are not necessarily prohibitive, especially when compared to the tolls of an hour-plus commute. And they offer more privacy and reliable WiFi than your local coffee shop.

Navigate the return to the office

Perhaps other colleagues in your area would be willing to join you. At best, your employer could be persuaded to subsidize office rental memberships instead of public transportation or parking fees.

With all the opportunities that remote work has opened up, employers and employees can be creative to find solutions that don’t consist of silently sabotaging each other.

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