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Can an employer legally call you incompetent, unprofessional and crazy and have you fired (or non- reappointed) ?

Brooklyn, NY |

Last Fall, I brought a concern to my boss about our students not quite meeting the expected standards and my boss stated she would conduct an investigation. Anyway, i found a solution to remedy the potential scandel, but things began to change for me. When I received my yearly employee eval a few months later, I was told I needed to drastically improve or else, I received a new job description and a letter of "guidance." Despite meeting all her many demands she continues to harass and publically humiliate me- she writes constant emails that state I am not doing my job and gets angry when I rebut the facts. My union suggested that I resign and says that a boss can present me as incompetent and crazy and there is nothing I can do or say to keep my job-despite proof. Is this true?

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Attorney answers 4


Unfortunately, I can only say yes...and no. You could present objective proof, if you have it, such as student scores. To discuss specific strategy you need to consult a lawyer who handles education law.


Are you an at will employee? Do you have an employment contract? A union with a collective bargaining agreement in place? Civil service or public employment legal protections? Has your employer voluntarily adopted pre-termination good cause processes?

If not, then you are almost inevitably an at will employee. If you are an at will employee without any of the above kinds of job protection, and your direct manager thinks you are doing a bad job, showing bad judgment, or otherwise not meeting expectations, then very likely you can be terminated. The kind of report you made last fall does not cause employment law protections to accrue to insulate you from termination.

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Yes, an employer can legally do all of those things. However, as a union member you may be afforded an opportunity to prove them false. I would suggest consulting with an experienced employment attorney if you intend to attempt to do so.

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Your union collective bargaining agreement (CBA) will contain provisions and procedures regarding the circumstances under which you can be terminated. The CBA needs to be reviewed to determine your rights. In addition, if you are a public employee, you may also may have additional protections against termination under the Civil Service Law. On the other hand, if you are an at-will employee with no union or civil service rights, you have no legal rights (other than unemployment benefits) if you are fired for being, in your supervisor's opinion, incompetent, unprofessional and crazy, unless of course you have an actual mental or emotional disorder, in which case you may have rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and/or it's state and local counterparts. Furthermore, there is another important facet of this that has not been mentioned. You may have rights under the Whistleblower Law if you can show your supervisor's negative conduct towards you (including any prospective termination) is in retaliation for reporting the "scandal", provided the scandal involved health and safety, illegal conduct or your employer fraudulently billing a governmental agency. You need a comprehensive consultation with a good employment attorney.

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