New boss and department structure at work, they passed me over for promotion and unofficially demoted me by creating new positions above me, taking responsibilities away and pushing me down further than I was before the structure changes-I used to half run a very small department while being trained to eventually run it myself.

The office unofficially encourages the use of unpaid overtime. And one of the people they promoted above me brags to the boss (off the record) about how she does a lot of unpaid overtime.

They told me upper management was concerned I wouldn’t be physically capable of the work (desk job and I am, but I took a month off for my health earlier this year). He also said I could get promoted in 6 months if I work really hard to get there. They put me on a challenging project that wasn’t properly setup during the prelim phase, with a ridiculous timeline, zero support, and also put me on tasks that pulled my attention away. When I tried to say that the project was going to fail I was told I just wasn’t capable. Which is ironic, cause no one else in the department would be expected to take on such a challenging task.

Thinking that this project was going to be used against my promotion, but to also solidify my demotion, I put in 40 hrs of unpaid overtime over the last month to get a decent product. I notified him of 8 hours and he said he would get me compensation but never followed through.

At the end of last week, I discovered that their current claim is I’m not promotable because my degree isn’t prestigious enough (bachelors instead of a masters). My former boss had no degree at all, and they’ve been “training” me for promotion for the past year. I’m being demoted no matter how hard I try.

I also realized that the pressure they’ve been putting on me was to test how quickly I could complete projects. So if my performance drops, they can claim I’m slacking off. I don’t want a future of working unpaid till 1am. So I emailed my boss and his boss with my total overtime hours for this project and said I didn’t need compensation, just that it not happen again.

Could I be fired for this?

Edit: it appears the company is going the other direction and doubling down on the pressure to work extra hard (unapproved overtime). My boss casually yelled over the phone that our client is unhappy with our prices and that they reached out to another company. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but if I were the boss, I wouldn’t announce it to the office. If it is true, then it’s unlikely to be just a price thing it’s probably more about quality.

Either way, I’m not going to fall for it again. I’m going to look for another job and watch my back in case they try to get rid of me in the process.

  • 2
    ...just that it not happen again. That what not happen again? The overtime or not getting paid for it? I notified him of 8 hours... is there no formal structure for reporting time? Or does the company require you to ask for overtime pay off the record?
    – BSMP
    Aug 25, 2020 at 6:05
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    Also, can you confirm that you're hourly and not salary in your question? Someone complained the last time I assumed that an OP talking about unpaid overtime was hourly. (It also kind of matters for that question about "cause", assuming you're asking whether it would be considered cause to deny you unemployment.)
    – BSMP
    Aug 25, 2020 at 6:06
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    “Just that it not happen again” I asked advice from a friendly “coworker” of higher level management and that’s what she recommended I say. She might have been playing me tho. There is a formal structure, but I was afraid because the time was not previously approved. So I wanted to check with him first. I am hourly.
    – user120854
    Aug 25, 2020 at 6:17
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    Can I ask how one "casually yells" ( over the phone or otherwise ) ? That doesn't sound good to me, if yelling is that casual, must be a special place to work
    – bytepusher
    Aug 25, 2020 at 19:03
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    This is one of those cases where you have a good case in court, if you have good documentation about what happened the last couple of months. Do you?
    – Mast
    Aug 26, 2020 at 6:48

6 Answers 6


This sounds like one of the most toxic work environments I have ever heard of. Not only do you have your new boss from the sounds of things setting you up for a constructive dismissal, but you're also in an environment where a coworker would intentionally give you bad advice to further harm your standing in the company.

Don't just walk, run from that office. They started by attempting to take away all of your responsibilities and giving it to management's lackeys, only to have it dumped back on your lap after they flubbed it. I presume you're now training all said lackeys on how exactly they can perform your job successfully?

My advice is that you should kick your feet up and very conspicuously interview for other companies on the clock. Your days at this company are numbered no matter what you do, may as well lower your stress level on the way out. As an added bonus you may get to watch the new manager panic as he realizes he overplayed his hand and might actually be stuck holding the bag for once.

If they try to fire you at any point during your job hunt, be sure to point out that this smells an awful lot like retaliation for your unpaid wages claim.

Alternatively you could just go straight to a lawyer without issuing any threats, just to see how much ammo they'll give you for any potential lawsuit. Either way I strongly recommend documenting everything. Who said what, when it was said, your hours worked, etc. It sounds to me like you've got quite a bit of ammo.

If you are looking for a less combative route I suppose you could just try to keep your head down as things take their natural course over the next couple weeks, but either way do NOT put in any more effort than the bare minimum for these people. You will never be promoted at this company, and as you are currently being managed out, your previous job that you seemed to enjoy is also out of reach for you as well. Prepare for exit on your own terms, or you'll have it on theirs.

  • 9
    This is close enough to the answer that needs to be written that I'll upvote & comment instead of answering. Do not pay attention to the highly voted answer here!! The answer to the question "Can I be fired for this" is "yes, of course" but - there's a huge but - if you have records of unpaid overtime you worked, and they're refusing to pay you for it, they're in a heap of trouble. If they also fire you for reporting it, and you can document any of it, they're completely fucked. There's wage theft, and then there's whistleblower and retaliation laws. Run, don't walk to a labor attorney.
    – Alex M
    Aug 26, 2020 at 5:04
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    @AlexM At worst (for the company), the complainant gets back pay plus damages in that amount (dol.gov/general/topic/wages/backpay), waits a few weeks/months and then terminates him. If they weren't explicitly authorized to do overtime, and the is any stipulation in their contract that they have to be authorized to do it, then OP has a problem. Also, OP stated that "[he] notified him of 8 hours and he said he would get me compensation but never followed through." which is lying to his employer, and could be seen as an attempt to mislead. Also, pretty unkind to say don't pay atention
    – Malisbad
    Aug 26, 2020 at 6:11
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    -1 for "My advice is that you should kick your feet up and very conspicuously interview for other companies on the clock.". This is unprofessional in any context. You may be heading for the door at this company, but that is no reason to fail to maintain minimum professional standards.
    – David258
    Aug 26, 2020 at 9:19
  • @alexm note that he only reported 8 hours of overtime so this massive labor law case you imagine the company is quaking in their boots over is somewhere in the hundreds of dollars. “Well is was really 40” is off the table given that he incorrectly reported already. “Were you lying then or are you lying now...” Not a sound foundation.
    – mxyzplk
    Aug 29, 2020 at 17:10
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    It's not the overtime itself that creates a credible threat, it's that the work environment became hostile AFTER the overtime was reported. Throw in the culture of encouraging employees to either under report or omit the overtime completely and suddenly as an employee you have a very credible case for retaliation. I've seen companies pay out for much, much less. Aug 31, 2020 at 18:35

The tl;dr here is simple. If you live in a "at will" state, you can be terminated for anything if the reason is not based on a protected class. Find a new job as soon as possible (especially because of your actions).

The longer answer sucks, but I'm going to dive in to it anyways:

  • You weren't unofficially demoted, you were reorganized. Things aren't consistent in a hierarchy between organizations. It sucks, but you were left wherever you were.
  • Unpaid overtime is wage theft. It's one of the biggest problems facing labour in the US, and is bigger than all other theft. It's insidious because workers will allow it because they believe it will bring them personal gain in the form of advancement, or preferential treatment. Look at one of the people that was promoted.
  • You took a month off. Management in a company like yours will never understand that, and you are a further risk of long periods of time off.
  • Whatever reasons that project failed, you were at the helm in the end. That's the definition of a fall guy. If you managed to pull it off, decisive victory for your supervisor. If you didn't, decisive loss for you, made worse by you do doing it all the while saying it was going to fail.
  • 40h of unpaid overtime? You're not in a position to be rewarded for it, and you donated 25% more of your time to an employer.
  • Promises to promote fast, or "grooming", or whatever are carrots on a string to get that sweet 25% more of your time. You'll know you're being groomed without being told because you'll be present when you shouldn't be, consulted when you shouldn't be, and given perks that you shouldn't be. Don't buy in to the myth.
  • You're probably seen as a risk because of your actions with the emails. They may be breaking laws (highly dependent on where you work), and that makes it worse for you. Get out.
  • 3
    +1 and 100% correct. I like to say that in a right to work state, they can fire you if your socks are untied. This person is being set up to fail. And, if they can fire for cause, they don'[t have to pay unemployment. You may want to add that last part to your answer. +1 regardless though. Aug 25, 2020 at 5:15
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    Small correction: "right to work" in this context should actually be "at will" (right to work is about ensuring that no employee can be compelled to join a union, at will means the contract can be terminated at any time for any (or even no) reason).
    – tok3rat0r
    Aug 25, 2020 at 8:45
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    I agree "unpaid overtime is wage theft" is a huge problem for the US, but not for the reason you think. The real reason is that people in the third world who are competing with the US economically don't share nice complacent ideas about "entitlement" and "rights".
    – alephzero
    Aug 25, 2020 at 14:59
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    Wow, I'm really glad I don't work in the US!
    – mjaggard
    Aug 25, 2020 at 15:50
  • 3
    Every state is an at will state. What varies by state is the set of exceptions to the general rule that employers can fire whomever they want whenever they want. @mjaggard: On the plus side, OP does (usually) have the right to simply say "I quit" and then walk out the door. "At will" means that either party may end the relationship at any time with no notice period.
    – Kevin
    Aug 25, 2020 at 19:09

tl,dr: You are a goner there, but you may be able to get compensation for leaving on your own.

You are clearly being managed "out of the door". For whatever reason, the new leadership doesn't want you there and I don't think there is anything you can do to save this. So your key question should be "what is my best course of action?".

Could I be fired for this?

Depends on your state, but in general you can be fired for many reasons. However, that hasn't happened yet, which is a good sign. Turns out firing someone properly is a fair bit of work and it also creates some amount of legal and image exposure risk for the company. Even more so it you are in a "protected" class, either by legal definition or just by public opinion.

It's much easier for the company if you quit by yourself, so they make your life miserable to make you do so. The company wants your notice and they may be willing to give something in return: some severance, a glowing reference, benefit extension, etc.

Negotiating this is tricky since you can't directly ask for it. This may be a good opportunity to get help from an experience work place negotiator. Typically you start with discussion with your boss indicating that "there may a be a growing cultural disconnect between you and the company" that you have "concerns about your long term future" and you are wondering where there is potentially "a mutual beneficial agreement" that would help both parties to resolve this. All these phrases are carefully chosen to not directly be judgmental or blaming, they are intentionally vague and you don't ask for something directly. Depending on how the first discussion goes, you adjust as needed.

  • 1
    I think I haven’t been fired yet because they need my expertise in the department. They haven’t fully trained my new bosses and don’t have anyone at my new “level” that can handle the same tasks as me. New management has been saying I’m incompetent, but he tasked his new people with stuff, they got confused so he immediately took the tasks away and gave them to me.....
    – user120854
    Aug 25, 2020 at 6:20
  • 7
    @user120854 Sorry, the hole that has been dug is too deep. If you are unable to get them to see your current merits, appreciate your honesty, or compensate you fairly, then unless you are going to pursue legal action for wage theft, you are wasting time. Get yourself an exit strategy and terminate your at-will employment as soon as you can safely do so. You won't get an apology, your money, or satisfaction from a company that can't see their own nose.
    – IT Alex
    Aug 25, 2020 at 12:33
  • 2
    @user120854 really depends on the local laws. They may offer you a hefty bonus in exchange for your resignation if wage theft litigation is an option on your side. And if you have a short notice and really valuable skills for your company the bonus may be to have you stay and teach to your replacement - albeit this option must be defined carefully. Aug 25, 2020 at 19:48
  • 1
    @user120854 I think I haven’t been fired yet because they need my expertise in the department. Never for a second believe you're not expendable, even in the short term. No matter how important your knowledge is, even if it were vital to the company and you were the only one who had it, you'd have to assume management will always act rationally and in their own self-interest; the reality is that your knowledge almost certainly isn't vital, can be picked up by someone else, and management is made up of humans. They can and do act irrationally and/or against their own self-interest.
    – kungphu
    Aug 26, 2020 at 3:19
  • 1
    Everyone is expendable. Even Steve Jobs found that was the case out at Apple. Some of the biggest names in technology space have something in common, and it’s not the fact they don’t have a college degree, it’s the fact they were let go from a company they formed (or were in critical position).
    – Donald
    Aug 26, 2020 at 10:01

So I emailed my boss and his boss with my total overtime hours for this project and said I didn’t need compensation, just that it not happen again.

Could I be fired for this?

You can always be fired, although this one email is unlikely to be the sole reason.

If your company decides that you aren't working the way they would like, they can fire you. That might mean that you don't accomplish what they wish, that you don't work as many hours as you wish, that you complain too much - whatever.

Your narrative doesn't actually demonstrate that you were demoted. Others were promoted and you were not. It appears that you have been reacting to your perception of the new structure and it makes you unhappy. If you continue to act/react this way, you may indeed be fired. More likely, I suspect you will find a new job and quit this one before you are fired.

  • 3
    Upvoted to counterbalance the drive-by downvote. Joe is correct; an employee can be terminated at any time throughout most of the US. There is a distinction between being terminated with cause (aka fired) vs being laid off. The former means that the termination is the employee's fault, and depending on the state, may make the former employee ineligible for unemployment benefits. Aug 25, 2020 at 16:55

Restructuring is one of the signs of an impending layoff [Signs layoffs are coming]. They are maneuvering to remove you.

Insead of simply waiting for that, you're better off getting another job ASAP and not mentioning your demotion.


Question 1 is whether in your state employment is "at will." If you're in such a state, they can fire you any time, and don't need to "maneuver to remove you" as other answerers are dramatically stating. They can remove you any time.

Basically, every company has infinite IT projects to do. Either 1) they know it, and value getting those done, and therefore people who can actually do them are valued, or 2) they don't, or they don't, and they aren't.

Now if you don't see yourself being valued, then either your employer is in case 2, which means you want to get out of there, or, just to be logically complete and not meant as a veiled insult, you're not as productive as you think you are.

Ironically, it doesn't matter which is the case. Just look for a new job, and if you find one that's any improvement, great. And if you don't, then appreciate the job you have.

I'm not sure I believe they care how much overtime you're working: people just want to have projects done well so they look good in turn. The main benefit of overtime is if they can't tell how hard the projects are and can only gauge them by the amount of sweat produced by doing them, which again is an indication to look for a job.

Personally I worked hellacious overtime at a critical point in my career, and while my manager did perceive the quality of my work directly, the man-hours also served to convince him. Huge bonuses ensued for the rest of my time there and it was totally worth it.

Don't take re-orgs personally. They're usually done with a rough brush following some sort of concept of organization someone wants, not figuring out how to best-utilize the staff on hand. EG, they might decide they want to separate development from QA because other developers were delivering bad quality, not you, but they're not going to organically make you your own QA on the basis that you were doing a great job at quality, while everyone else hands stuff over to a QA department. Removing QA responsibility would be making your job smaller, even though it doesn't reflect on anyone's opinion of your work.

One other question I have reading your description is that it doesn't include information I'd expect you to have. For instance: as soon as someone started telling you that your degree wasn't prestigious enough, did you say, whoa, time out, previous boss X had degree Y, so please explain. Yet you don't tell us what their explanation for that was, which leads me to wonder if you asked? Generally I'm pretty aggressive in asking such questions. Likewise if someone promises to comp you 8 hours, let them see you write that on your notepad, and swing by a week later: Bob help me get this crossed off my list: do you need anything from me to move this forward? And bring that notepad toe each meeting you have with them and bring it up, always, just want to make sure, do you need anything from me for this? If they call a meeting short before you get to that, just in closing, say, OK, I have some open issues that can wait for our next meeting. (Then next meeting, before getting into the subject, say, OK, we have some outstanding issues we didn't discuss last meeting, let's take a sec to get them crossed off.)

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