I've been working a job at a startup for almost two months now, and I've been getting more and more uncomfortable with my work situation. My boss is often difficult to work with, and recently he had fired, unjustly I felt, a fellow coworker.

When I started, me and this coworker put our names down for a grant to help the company financially, which stated that we going to be working there for at least a year (nothing was signed, it was just a typed name and date). This coworker was having financial issues (he was being paid min wage for a job that should pay much more) because the boss did not give him the raise he was promised (part of the reason he took the job in the first place despite initial low pay and a baby to take care of)

Luckily this coworker had been offered a much better full time position somewhere else. When he gave his notice though, he was informed that he can't quit, and won't be getting a raise. The next day, the boss fired him and threatened to sue on the grounds of the grant.

At this point, I don't know what to do. I want this coworker to be happy (this new job is much better for him and his kid) and I don't want him to get sued. This whole thing just added to my previous discomfort and frustration here, but I'm in a similar situation. I don't know if I can just quit because of this grant thing, and having worked here for only a bit coming out of college make this even more difficult. I'm also stuck because I signed a year lease on my apartment.

Any advice on how to proceed would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

  • 13
    Your boss will have a hard time winning a lawsuit if there isn't a contract to back it up. Threats are miles away from an actual lawsuit. Although a name can possibly act as a signature. You should probably talk to a lawyer to find out whether there's any risk for you here. Aug 18 '18 at 19:51
  • 9
    Location extremely important. Add your country.
    – rkeet
    Aug 18 '18 at 21:13
  • 2
    When you committed to stay one year, was that an agreement between you and the startup or between you and the grant issuing organization?
    – Ben Mz
    Aug 18 '18 at 21:28
  • This is why you don't work for startups unless you really know the owner.
    – solarflare
    Aug 20 '18 at 2:23
  • 3
    The grant does not bind you (if you didn't sign it), it binds the company and that is really of no concern to you.
    – Alper
    Aug 20 '18 at 8:17

I don't think this is the right venue for legal advice, so please do not take this response as such.

That said, some areas have implied or explicit "employment contracts" where an employer can sue for damages in the example you provide. Most countries/states (in the US) are "employment at will" or some version where there isn't any such obligation on the part of an employee. Most likely you would be aware of a legal obligation, but you should seek clarification with your government. Nearly all countries/states have employment law hotlines for questions/concerns like the ability for an employer to sue an employee for "non-performance" of a contract, or something similar.

Most likely you simply have a bully manager who uses verbal aggression, threats and other tactics to try to "motivate" their employees. First, accept that there is nothing you can do to change this manager. Your employment under this person will likely be filled with threats, anxiety and pressure beyond your control. You should not hope that it will improve or that the manager/boss will change. This is how this person operates and you should not fall victim to believing it is normal or acceptable.

Second, since you are currently employed in this environment, work on making your resume better and seek new employment as soon as you can. If you are concerned about the grant, you should seek advice from the company or government agency offering it. They should be able to tell you what you are obligated to perform as a part of signing the contract. I have dealt with many contracts and grants of various kinds indirectly (as a board member, for example) and all of them obligated the employer to handle any personnel changes. Your situation could be an exception, but that should give your employer reason to value you, not threaten you or your co-worker. If staying with the company is so critical, then the employer should fulfill promises to employees like raises and promotions.

All the signs of your situation point to "make a quick exit" and expect to be treated exactly how your co-worked was treated; with disdain, anger and threats. So far, you have no reason to believe otherwise. This is true even if your employer claims that they would never do it to you; that is how toxic people snare those around them into their traps. They need you to believe that you are "special" until you do something "wrong" and clearly must be "punished" for it. That leads to the "victim" questioning whether it is their fault, leading to the toxic relationship cycle.

Best of luck to you!

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