Ambush Firing: Is it Illegal?
Large corporations have a strategy to get you fired once you’ve been bullied in the workplace. It’s transparent to anyone who cares to look, but the company would rather keep it a secret. It’s called “ambush firing.”
What happens first is the target gets bullied. It usually takes several months for him to notice he is being bullied.
Thereafter, the target continues to tolerate the bullying for a few months more. Being a resilient, conscientious and competent employee, this time frame could be upwards of six months; 23 months on average according to the research.
Once targets have finally had enough, the bravest ones make a formal complaint (the more nervous ones quit). The complaint is duly “investigated.”
The “investigation” is biased in the interests of the employer and the image they wish to present to the world. The CEO declares that the company has “a zero tolerance to bullying” and reiterates its inspiring values as a good corporate citizen.
The human resources department makes a show of applying due process, enshrined by the company’s convincing and laudable policies and procedures.
However, in reality, the company just wants the target to shut up and go away.
In order to effect the “ambush firing,” the company sets up a meeting at very short notice in which the target has no choice but to attend. The timeline is absolutely rigid so there is no room to prepare ahead of time.
The target can sometimes bring a support person to the meeting who nonetheless may not be allowed to voice an opinion about what is happening.
A gang of managers then confront the hapless target to deliver a trumped-up but “plausible reason” in a “fair and reasonable manner” for what they are about to do.
With much sympathetic head-shaking, the target is summarily dismissed and it’s all over in under 30 minutes.
To make matters worse, in Australia if the target earns over $129,800 per year and lodges an unfair dismissal claim with the Fair Work Commission, the employer may challenge the application on the basis of the high income threshold requirement in the Fair Work Act 2009. When the case goes to arbitration it may very well be dismissed on these grounds alone.
The target is left reeling; he has been the victim of a bully, then the company has colluded with the bully and fired him for speaking out.
The bully is given a slap on the wrist or a promotion, then it’s business as usual.
Is this strategy legal? Unfortunately the onus is on the target to prove his case in court, at a time when he is at his lowest ebb and suffering from post-traumatic stress and depression.
In writing this article it is my hope that targets will work out what is happening to them and take precautions to protect themselves before it’s too late.
Here are five steps you can take to prepare yourself for the worst:
- Get your story straight by writing a coherent account of events, which you will need to have on hand if you decide to take legal action or make a formal complaint. You don’t need to act on it just yet; just have it ready.
- Get some support from a workplace bullying-savvy psychologist who can help you recover from trauma and make an effective plan of action.
- Find a good workplace lawyer and have the phone number on hand, just in case. Be sure to cull the sharks and only use lawyers whose reputation and integrity are intact. A Google search will help you unearth important information.
- Have a media contact ready in case you need to take your story to the press.
- Keep informed by reading all you can about workplace bullying.
Henshaw, S. (2014). Ambush Firing: Is it Illegal?. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 3, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/04/20/ambush-firing-is-it-illegal/