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  • Illegal/Inappropriate Questions/Comments During Resignation Process

    I've worked in a busy office environment for 2.5 years. I turned in my resignation yesterday, giving approximately 3 1/2 weeks notice as a courtesy and to help leave this position and office on a good note. It may help to know that I'll still be employed by the same employer, a university, but in a grad student "teaching assistant" capacity, under a totally different department and doing completely different things.

    When I turned in my resignation letter, the supervisor asked where I would be working next. I told her. Since she's aware of my educational and career goals, none of this was any surprise, and we've discussed this career move as an inevitability since day one.

    After I turned in my resignation letter, my direct supervisor called me on my phone (at the front desk, where conversations can often be heard throughout the entire office) and, among other things, asked if my quitting this job was to take the other job or because I was unhappy and dissatisfied/disgruntled in this office. I told her simply that I was uncomfortable discussing it and that the answer was more complex than a "yes" or "no" answer.

    In addition, she brought up the subject of my exit interview. While I've never discussed my exit interview with anyone here or made any kind of plans regarding it, she attempted to persuade me to "keep it simple" and be careful what I bring up and to not be negative. She implied that her motivations were altruistic (my phrase, not hers) and she just wanted me to not burn bridges or create a situation where our Human Resources would be unable to give me a favorable recommendation. Needless to say, her behavior and "management style" during my time here has been such that she does not want the truth about certain situations and behaviors to be discussed.

    Questions:
    1. Is she legally allowed to ask me (especially in public) about my reasons for leaving? She often has asked questions or shared things about herself of a personal nature that have (in my opinion) been inappropriate and made me feel uncomfortable, but to me this feels like crossing the line. I've read that giving any written indication in one's resignation about one's time of employment can be used as defense in a lawsuit, and it seems to me that this is the oral equivalent of trying to get me to say something she could use to defend herself if confronted later, lawsuit or not.

    2. Is her attempt to influence my exit interview a legal issue? I don't disagree with the general principle of not burning bridges or coming across as a negativity-dwelling crank with a grudge (and I have no intention of being either of those), but this wasn't a general primer or instructional discussion, given the context and manner of communication.

    Thanks in advance for your help and comments. This post will be cross-posted in both the Nebraska State Law and the Labor Law -- Hiring and Firing forums. I apologize if in doing so I've violated standard protocol for this discussion forum.

  • #2
    We do request that people NOT cross post, as the same people respond to all Employment Law forums and it can be very confusing when all of the answers are not in one place.
    The above answer, whatever it is, assumes that no legally binding and enforceable contract or CBA says otherwise. If it does, then the terms of the contract or CBA apply.

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    • #3
      1. Yes, your supervisor can ask you why you are leaving. Whether it's appropriate to ask you at the reception desk or not is open to debate, but it's not illegal. Her over-sharing about her personal life is unprofessional but not illegal.

      2. There's no law that prohibits her from giving you advice on your exit interview either. Ultimately, however, you are not leaving the employer. You're going to a different department. Where most people who leave a job may never see their supervisors again after they leave, you will still be working at the same place and will run into each other. Burning bridge is never a good idea, but when you're staying at the same employer doing so can haunt a person in a way that it wouldn't if they were going to another business. That may have been the point she was trying to get across.
      I am not able to respond to private messages. Thanks!

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      • #4
        Thanks for the reply, Marketeer. Also, thank you very much for the clarification, cbg. I appreciate the patience and kindness alongside the professionalism. As someone who moderates/administrates a forum of only several hundred, believe me, I know it can be difficult at times. : )

        I knew already that over-sharing personal info (and asking prying questions) was only inappropriate, not illegal, but those other things I figured I should ask. I'm really not a lawsuit kind of person, and while her treatment of me here has been pretty rough at times (she's talked about her husband in similar terms as she uses with me, so it's been obvious to myself and others that she projects a lot of frustration onto me) I'm more of a diplomacy than confrontation person and since all involved have known that this job wouldn't last more than 3-4 years at the most, just tried to shrug it off.
        The main reason I asked about the legality is because, frankly, it would make a nifty reason to tell her I don't want to talk about it. That's about the only response that would stop the badgering, but I didn't want to use it if it weren't true. : ) Within the context of our entire conversation about the exit interview (and one just a few minutes later in which she spent several minutes telling me how much she'd talked me up to our Human Resources director in the months leading up to this), it's obvious what she's doing.
        My approach to the exit interview, as I mentioned before, is that I don't see any point in being vindictive or going out of my way to share a hundred ugly anecdotes. At the same time, I believe in being honest in an exit interview -- what's the point of them if we can't be even constructively honest? -- and if I'm asked about particular things, then I'll respond with sincerity and tempered candor.

        Thanks again for the reply. I welcome any others.

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        • #5
          1. Why wouldn't they ask the reason you are leaving? Did you honestly expect to just give notice and never have anyone say a word? I don't see a problem with calling you on the phone to ask. The answer was simple enough. You were leaving for this other opportunity you had been waiting for. If it was something very personal or sensitive, a simple request to discuss it in person when you were free is all you needed.

          2. She could point blank ask you to lie about her being the greatest supervisor ever in your exit interview and it wouldn't be illegal. No laws govern exit interviews so anything goes. Bashing your supervisor, job or department when you are staying within the same organization isn't a good idea at all. Exit interviews are not meant to be a place to air every rotten thing that ever happened while working there. Some use it as such, but in reality, it just makes them look bad. Reminding you of this is in no way illegal or even unethical.
          I post with the full knowledge and support of my employer, though the opinions rendered are my own and not necessarily representative of their position. In other words, I'm a free agent.

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          • #6
            I should clarify this, as well. When I originally said "ask me about my reasons for leaving" there's a nuance there. Obviously I would expect to be asked why I'm leaving, which I have no problem divulging. I mean, given this particular situation, she would know very quickly whether I was the one to tell her or not. However, at what point in our conversation I told her it was more complex than a yes or no answer, she continued to ask me questions.
            That's the point where I wondered if there was legal structure on how far is too far. The main reason I ask is because I've read legal advice in the past about not documenting these things in the resignation letter for legal purposes.

            Anyway, my main motivations for asking were because I know there are definite legal boundaries as far as questions and speech in how a manager can deal with hiring a person but wasn't sure what there might be for on the way out. My exit interview is today and hopefully things will be less than problematic from here on out. Thanks for reading.

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            • #7
              Nope, there aren't any. They can ask until they get a satisfactory answer. If you say the reason is complex, they have a very good reason for wanting to look into it further.
              I post with the full knowledge and support of my employer, though the opinions rendered are my own and not necessarily representative of their position. In other words, I'm a free agent.

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