74

I worked at a bookstore for several months. Everything was going well and I had no problems or issues.

One day I was working the cash register and the manager came in and said he was conducting interviews most of the day in the back. He said not to bother him unless it was an emergency. A man came into the store and told me he was interviewing for a position and I directed him to the back. I later saw him come out of the back and start shopping for books. The next interview came in and I directed him to the back. The first interviewee came up to the register to purchase a lot of books. He bought around $200 worth of books and paid on his credit card. I took the payment and put the company copy of the receipt in the register and closed it. It was at that point he asked for change for $1. I knew the manager was in an interview, but I couldn't open the register. I rang up a sale for $0.01, took his dollar and gave him four quarters. Later the manager came out after his last interview to check on things. I told him what happened, and asked him to void the sale. He had no issues doing this. Then he went back to doing more interviews.

A few hours pass by and he comes out and walks up to me and says he has to fire me. I was shocked and asked why. He said it was for opening the register without a sale. This was against company policy. He also said that my till was short by over $5 multiple times.

As to the first part, I was never told of this policy. If the policy is true, I did technically violate it, but unknowingly. If I knew it was against policy and could get fired for it, I would have never done it. Voiding sales was not common, but not uncommon. You might void a sale after ringing it up, but the customer changes their minds and leaves. There were other reasons to void a sale as well. I was just looking to help a customer out who literally spent over $200 in books. To me this was good customer service.

The second reason is - pardon my French - pure bullshit. In the hundred or so times my drawer was counted, I was off maybe two or three times. And in those two or three times, I was only off by a single coin. I know this as after the end of every shift as a cashier, you take your drawer to the back and count it up yourself and write the total in the log. Then a manager counts it up and writes the total in the log. Then you both sign the log. Therefore I know being over $5 off multiple times is completely false.

I was to shocked to say anything, so I left.

What are my options?

This is in the US.

111

Obviously, the result of one of the interviews was the engagement of your replacement, somebody cheaper perhaps.

There's not much you can do. In the USA, either employer or employee can end an employment instantly for no reason at all.

You could contact your former employer and explain that if he ever tells anyone else that your till was consistently $5.00 short, he will be committing a slander and all his logs will be subpoenaed. Furthermore (thanx Anoplexian) he would be documenting the fact that he didn't fire you for no reason, but for a fabricated reason. This constitutes a wrongful termination.

So you could (1) do nothing and move on, (2) threaten to file suit for slander and wrongful termination, or (3) actually file such a suit.

Practically, though, a lawsuit for wrongful termination (that does not involve oppressing a member of a protected class) is a nuisance to bring and difficult to win. You don't really want to try to get a reference from this jerk. It's probably best to just move on.

  • 40
    I think the important thing for OP in this is that both reasons (policy, and being short) are cheap, totally made up stories to give the firing some apparent justification, because the boss didn't have any better reasons (apart from personal gain). OP didn't actually do anything wrong. – ig-dev Dec 2 at 7:02
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    "There's not much you can do. In the USA, either employer or employee can end an employment instantly for no reason at all." AFAIK, this is not universally true, it varies considerably by state. – RBarryYoung Dec 2 at 15:55
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    Please note, according to some sources, it is unlawful if the justification given is fabricated (breach of good faith). IANAL, but if there's no jusitification to the shorted drawers, there may be a case for unlawful termination even in an at-will state. Again though, IANAL, so contact a lawyer to see if you have a case. A settlement for "resignation and some unemployment" may be better on your future outlook as well... – Anoplexian - Reinstate Monica Dec 2 at 16:46
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    I'm shocked there's so little (basically no) employee protection in the US. – henning -- reinstate Monica Dec 2 at 18:46
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    keep in mind, that in some jurisdictions, if employee is fired without cause (or laid off), they are eligible to collect unemployment compensation. But if they are fired with cause (stealing money, breaking company policy, etc) then you don't get unemployment compensation. It's worth a discussion with them to try to keep them from fighting any unemployment benefits you apply for – Brandon Dec 2 at 19:05
46

One thing that hasn't been addressed in other answers is that in the US, employers often try to attach a 'cause' for termination in order to not have to pay unemployment. If an employee is terminated without cause (e.g. laid off), the employer will be responsible for paying their part of unemployment payments to the employee.

Unfortunately, many times the 'cause' is not true or valid. But, to fight this type of thing takes a great deal of time and possibly money. And the employee doesn't often win, especially if they are fighting corporate lawyers.

I think moving on to something better is your best course of action.

  • 1
    I'd like to see a citation for the fact that employers pay more for non-cause firings? – Daniel R. Collins Dec 2 at 16:33
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    I've heard of that, and the OP should file for unemployment anyway. I think (but don't know) it will force the employer to either pay the unemployment or actually prove their allegations. – thursdaysgeek Dec 2 at 17:14
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    @DanielR.Collins they definitely pay more when someone claims unemployment. I don't have a source, but I've heard HR departments talking about it. – Kat Dec 2 at 18:26
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    Employers have differing tax rates / brackets for unemployment insurance that factor in the number of claims received / paid. Increased numbers of users claiming unemployment (Which you are technically only able to do if fired without actionable cause) raises the bracket that they're in, which can vary by state. This webpage provides a good explanation: unemployment-services.com/unemployment-claim-cost-employer – schizoid04 Dec 2 at 20:18
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    Let me be clear: I'm not looking for personal education via comments. I suggest that this answer will be improved by editing and including a citation for its claims (perhaps the UIS link above is sufficient, if Cindy thinks it is correct). – Daniel R. Collins Dec 3 at 0:36
27

What do you think I should do?

Assuming you worked in an at-will employment state, there are very few things you can do.

If this bookstore is part of a chain, you could appeal to the HR department. You could explain your situation, what happened, and the circumstances involved. It's possible, if unlikely, that they could intervene on your behalf.

But while it's unfortunate, there is no law in your jurisdiction preventing your employer from firing you for any reason that isn't illegal (such as due to race, religion, etc), or for no reason at all. The reasons given may make no sense, be unfair, or be completely made up - it won't matter legally.

Most likely you'll just need to find your next job and put this one behind you.

8

I worked retail and warehousing for 10-15 years of my life. I haven't been in those industries for over a decade at this point, but my experience says the following:

I've never actually heard of a register that didn't have a specific "No Sale" button allowing the drawer to be popped open for making change. The mere absence of that button on the register seems odd to me. If this was your first job in retail then maybe it just didn't occur to you that the button isn't there because the store doesn't make change as a service.

Even so, it's definitely your french BS if you never heard about this policy in orientation or training or in the employee handbook. What you did is so common in retail that for them to have such a policy and not mention it 88 times on your first day of training is beyond ridiculous.

I agree with others who said to check out whether your state is "at will employment" and go from there. I disagree with the idea that you should go over this manager's head to corporate HR if you're working for a chain - that's literally signing up to work in a hostile environment.

The last thing, about your till going short, is that if or when your till is ever spot-on correct several times in a row, that's when management starts really looking at you for theft. It's typical for a till to run over or short by up to a couple of dollars a shift. Running 5 dollars short consistently is probably legitimately as bad as running dead-on-perfect consistently, but you say your till was never actually that short.

I also agree with the folks who pointed out that the manager was obviously interviewing your replacement that day, and fired you when they made a hire who said they could start immediately.

  • "I also agree with the folks who pointed out that the manager was obviously interviewing your replacement that day" So, that guy goes backstage for the interview, buys 200$ worth in books, then asks for the transaction that gets OP fired ... hmmmm ... – Fildor Dec 3 at 15:27
  • @JoeStrazzere Wyoming is a "right to work" state. The right to work law here states that employees may not be required to join a union or pay dues as a condition of employment. As a result of union membership being totally optional, we have few to no unions or union members in the state. Non-union workers can quit or be laid off or fired at any time, for any reason. I assumed this term was interchangeable with "work at will." – Andrew B. Painter Dec 3 at 16:43
  • @Fildor I don't really believe anything that complex or conspiratory went on. I think one of the guys who came in for an interview just decided to buy a bunch of books and needed change to buy a newspaper or soda pop afterward. The point is really that the OP was going to be fired whether he made change for that guy or not and that's backed up by the fact that the reasons given for his termination make no sense to anybody with experience running a register or managing people who do. – Andrew B. Painter Dec 3 at 16:46
  • Having never worked in retail, my eyebrow raises at the assertion that it's more suspicious if your till is spot-on consistently. Can you explain what someone would be suspicious of, in such a case? – Jeremy Holovacs Dec 3 at 19:34
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    @JeremyHolovacs Work an afternoon as a WalMart cashier. You'll be in a constant rush, you'll be on and off your till, you'll have to call a manager to do something at least twice, you'll have customers wanting cash back on their credit card or a check for over-the-amount, and probably a dozen people an hour will want change for a big bill. If you can do that 4 hour shift without once handing off two singles stuck together or a fiver instead of a ten, by honest diligence, you'll be moving so slowly they'll fire you for that. Coin rolls occasionally have the wrong number of items in them too. – Andrew B. Painter Dec 3 at 20:50
2

If your employment was in an "at will" jurisdiction, there won't be much you can do.

Even in jurisdictions that are not "at will", the burden of proof is typically on the employee -- that is, you are guilty unless you prove yourself innocent.
As others have pointed out, it's generally regarded as your responsibility to know the business policies. But businesses typically have you sign a form saying that you've read the employee handbook and agree to be bound by it. If you are one hundred per cent certain that you never signed such a form, then you may have a leg to stand on, especially if the till records are still available and bear out your claim that you were never anywhere near $5 short.

If your employment was not in an at-will jurisdiction, and you're sure you were never asked to sign a "receipt" for the company policy handbook, and you know that the register logs are typically retained for at least a few months, and this is a medium to large chain -- i.e. there is a corporate HR department somewhere -- you could conceivably approach the corporate HR people and lodge a complaint about wrongful termination. But what would you be looking to achieve? Even if they reinstate you, you'd be back (presumably) working under the same manager; as others have pointed out, that would be awkward at best.
The same goes for legal action i.e. suing the company for wrongful termination; and the legal action would likely be expensive.

Now if you can find a lawyer who thinks you are entitled to punitive damages, and that your case is so strong that they are willing to take it on a contingency basis ... then legal action might be a practical option.
But it is a "nuclear" option, and might affect your hireability in the future, especially if this turns into a high-profile case. I would only think about considering this options if you were terminated for "cause" -- i.e. you would not be eligible for unemployment benefits -- and the reasons are false.

As other posters have suggested, your best bet is probably to move on ... especially if you can collect unemployment compensation while you're looking for another position.

2

Every logic on this tread is moot. The reason is that you are in the USA, and most places are at-will. That means they could fire you if they didn't like the shoe laces you wore. Unfortunately all you can do is simply find a new job and move on.

My thoughts: your boss hired a new person and had to get rid of you and saw a perfect opportunity. Or maybe he was having a bad day of interviews and took it out on you.

0

What you should do? Find a new job.

You admit yourself that your till was short on few occasions, and that you did indeed open the till without a sale so that's all the cause needed to fire you. Not knowing the policy is not a defense. In all likelihood is there to serve as exactly that, provision of cause for terminating people, but that's how it is with most employment contacts.

And you likely were a goner for a while, or at least threading very close to it, so there must have been some reasons why the company wanted you gone. And one they've found a replacement they just pulled the trigger. What is the core cause (assuming it's not the short till) you will never find out.

So gotta move on and take a lesson from it that this is what happens in workforce and hope that next one will be better.

  • 10
    In this case not knowing about the policy is a defense. If the OP did not get the training at start or didn’t receive an employee handbook where such a policy is clearly stated how should they be liable for breaking it. – Zefiryn Dec 2 at 10:03
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    @Zefiryn OP didn't say that it was never mentioned, just that he didn't know. Good luck proving that somewhere between being told that you cannot open the till without a sale, and him ringing up 0.01$ sale to get the change he didn't know that, well, it shouldn't be opened without a sale present. – Tymoteusz Paul Dec 2 at 12:40
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    Could the first man be a plant, specifically to give a reason to fire the OP? – Aron Dec 2 at 14:21
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    @Aron why does it matter if it's a secret shopper or not? It's just wild theory-crafting, and I am very sure that the main reason for unhappiness was the short till, or something that OP doesn't share with us. Either way, we won't know, and it doesn't really matter, as OP admits himself to doing it before. – Tymoteusz Paul Dec 2 at 14:23
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    Why are you so bent on accusing the OP? Also, you totally (seem to) miss the context of his actions and isolate them so that they sound criminal. – Helen - down with PCorrectness Dec 3 at 15:22
-1

My condolences for your misfortune.

What do you think I should do?

  • Treat it as a life lesson and move on. Make sure when you're employed next time you re-confirm every single thing which could impact your job. Such as what you should do and shouldn't and have it in printed copy for both of you.
  • If you have any evidence of the manager's wrongdoing you could try to bring it to court.
  • 11
    "Make sure when you're employed next time you re-confirm every single thing which could impact your job." That in itself is probably career-limiting advice, frankly. Employers often like people who can take initiative and work independently. – yshavit Dec 2 at 16:21
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    @yshavit - oh yes, just like the OP did. – Tim Dec 2 at 16:36
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    While I understand the intent, confirming "every single thing" is a bit extreme. Most people work on good faith. This is seemingly an example of where the boss did not and made up a reason to fire someone instead of giving the real reason. – CramerTV Dec 2 at 17:02
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    "Make sure when you're employed next time you re-confirm every single thing which could impact your job." Impossible to do: Bosses can be arbitrary or even dishonest. Policies can change in an instant. If the hiring boss leaves, a new boss could change things, including just wanting to "bring in their own people". – GreenMatt Dec 2 at 19:39
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    @Dan apparently, speaking the truth is unpopular – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Dec 3 at 22:15
-2

From a security standpoint, opening the till without a sale is a HUGE RED FLAG and is therefore almost universal in retail that a till is never opened without a sale.

To give you an example, one place where I worked had a policy in place where the ONLY time this was acceptable was after a robbery and ringing up "no sale".

Employee theft is a massive concern in retail, and because of that, policies regarding till balances and opening the till without a sale can be harsh to the extreme.

What you should know, going forward, is that while a till being over or under is often ignored, it is being monitored. What did you in was the opening the till without a sale. You combine that with your till being off, it looks like you've been skimming, and you will be fired, as you found out.

Also, it's up to you to know the policy. Even if you violated it unknowingly, you still violated it, and it's a policy that is pretty high up on the list of no-nos in retail. The reason for it ranges from "sweetheart sales", "Quick change"scams, and employee theft.

You were fired for opening the register without the sale, and the till shortages were used to establish a pattern.

Pretty standard for the industry, and neither reason is false.

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