Yesterday after I just left the office I got an email stating my work ethics aren't right and that they want to talk to me on Monday. I don't have heart for the company, according to him.

The truth is, literally one day before I worked till 4 in the morning to get something done before a deadline because there were some unforeseen circumstances at the door. I replied with a call and with some emotion (still professional) that I didn't like the way I was treated. Now today he sends me an email with this line in it: "Because of your reaction on the phone, if you're thinking of quitting we're are going to look into making a claim for damages".

Now, that last line... I see that as a threat and I was wondering if it's even legal for them to say that.

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    Save that e-mail exchangeand anything related to it, somewhere other than a company machine. Your lawyer is certainly going to want to see it and may need to use it.
    – keshlam
    Commented Apr 30, 2016 at 11:44
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    Sending this as an email clearly demonstrates that your boss is utterly stupid. Print the email and forward it to your home email to make sure you have evidence, which you clearly have the right to do since this is an email that affects you personally, not as an employee.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Apr 30, 2016 at 20:08
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Jane S
    Commented May 2, 2016 at 10:22
  • do you actually mean "ethics" is this a mistranslation from the dutch?
    – Pepone
    Commented May 2, 2016 at 14:02

4 Answers 4


People can say all sorts of things. Whether you can be sued "for damages" by your employer is a question for a lawyer and depends on your location, situation and contract. By and large, employees are protected from such shenanigans but there can always be loopholes. In my non-legal opinion your boss is blowing hot air because he knows you're underpaid, undervalued and are probably looking to leave.

Even if you like your job, I highly encourage you to start looking for a new job. A boss that threatens you with legal action is a sure sign of a dysfunctional organization where you won't have much of a future. Consult a lawyer or talk to your country/state's employment board about the legal options.

Until you find a new job or if you still want to remain with this company, I suggest talking to your boss about the reason for his threat, as Dawny33 mentioned. That may or may not work if your boss really is a total loon, but there's probably no harm in trying. Open with something like:

I was very surprised to hear that you'd consider putting in a claim for damages if I were to leave. I may have reacted [strongly / with some emotion] but I never considered leaving.1 I'm not looking to do so now either, but can you help me understand why you'd want to sue me? I think we can both agree that I've repeatedly gone above and beyond for this company and I'm a bit taken aback by your reaction.

Have this conversation face-to-face so you can back-pedal or adjust the language if you notice that your boss starts foaming at the mouth. It's important to see his reaction so you can figure out if he's just incompetent and making silly remarks when he feels that his authority is threatened, or if he's now actively hostile towards you. The key point is to assuage his fears that you are leaving. Finding out why he had such an outlandish reaction is secondary as it could just be a sign of irrational thinking.

1 - Note that if you're taking my advice to heart, you'll technically be lying if you say this as you are looking for a new job. This is a situation where your employer has made it impossible for you to be candid about your future plans so your only option is to lie. To be clear, this is one of the only times I'd suggest lying in the workplace.

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    (+1) A boss that threatens you with legal action is a sure sign of a dysfunctional organization where you won't have much of a future.
    – Dawny33
    Commented Apr 30, 2016 at 11:07
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    Absolutely make no concessions and no admissions of fault whatsoever. My email would be "You threatened to make a claim for damages should I quit. Please clarify as soon as possible whether you intend to make a claim for damages should I quit or not. If you intend to make such a claim, please clarify as soon as possible what damages you would wish to claim. "
    – gnasher729
    Commented Apr 30, 2016 at 20:13
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    "I'll admit that my reaction in the heat of the moment was unprofessional" -- the questioner believes (and says in the question) that their reaction was professional. They shouldn't "admit" the exact opposite unless they've changed their mind, and possibly not even then. Commented Apr 30, 2016 at 20:52
  • @SteveJessop First, there is no place for emotional reactions in the workplace, certainly not in an email. By that definition alone the OP's response was unprofessional even if he thinks otherwise. And even if his reaction was reasonable, that does not matter when you're dealing with unreasonable people. This is where "would you rather be right or happy" comes into play.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented May 1, 2016 at 10:50
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    @Lilienthal, He could just replace "I'll admit that my reaction in the heat of the moment was unprofessional but..." with "I'll admit that I have been getting frustrated lately but...", or "I agree that I was frustrated when you called but...", or "I agree that this is a very frustrating situation for an employee to be in but". Basically, conceding in writing that he acted unprofessionally is not an absolute requirement. In fact, even if true, putting anything like that down in writing when the boss is threatening legal action may not be the best idea. Commented May 1, 2016 at 16:45

Now, that last line. I see that as a threat and I was wondering if it's even legal for them to say that.

It is a clear threat, unless and until you have been done anything which is against your employment contract. So, you might want to cross-verify that, just to be double sure.

Do hire a lawyer (if you can afford), before you submit your resignation so that he/she can help you with the cross-verification, and also get ready for any possible charges against you (genuine or fake).

Coming to whether it is legal or not to say that; it is completely legal if you are involved in any events which are against your contract. However, the if-then clause makes it very unethical.

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    @RobinRijkeboer Then, it is unethical for them to threaten you. So, pl talk to your boss regarding why they had to use that threat.
    – Dawny33
    Commented Apr 30, 2016 at 10:51
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    "t is completely legal if you are involved in any events which are against your contract" -> Not in the Netherlands. The law always takes precedence over what's in your contract. If there's a clause in your contract that's against the law, then that clause can't be enforced. A common example of this is a clause that states that you're unable to work for any competitors for a period of five years or some such, which some companies put in contracts, but is unenforceable... Commented Apr 30, 2016 at 11:55
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    I think the point is if your contract says you won't share passwords and then you post the admin password on facebook then you can be sued for damages.
    – coteyr
    Commented Apr 30, 2016 at 13:57
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    No they an sue you for the cost of checking the network and re-securing it. Along with the (in theory) the cost of loss of business or reputation for looking like an idiot because their password was posted on face book. Though those would be much more difficult to prove.
    – coteyr
    Commented Apr 30, 2016 at 14:19
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    Even if you did do something against your contract, potentially it constitutes extortion to threaten to sue you as a means to coerce you into doing something other than remedying the thing they're threatening to sue you over. So it isn't necessarily completely legal to say that. Something else to talk to your own lawyer about, of course, since a lot depends on circumstances. Even if NL doesn't allow indefinite periods of indenture as compensation for damages, it doesn't necessarily follow that they're attempting to extort you. Commented Apr 30, 2016 at 20:56

I am not a lawyer, so I looked at the Wikipedia article about "constructive dismissal". If your employer makes it impossible to work for him without outright firing you, then you can quit employment and it will be treated as if you had been terminated. Under UK law, one reason can be this one: "[a]n employer must not, without reasonable or proper cause, conduct himself in a manner calculated or likely to destroy or seriously damage the relationship of trust and confidence between the employer and the employee."

After a constructive dismissal, you can then sue for damages for unfair dismissal. Before doing anything I would recommend contacting a lawyer.

What your boss has done I would consider a serious breach. Even if you decide to stay after a serious breach, a second, less serious breach would again mean unfair dismissal.

To those who claim suing could damage you and isn't worth it: This is in the EU. At stake would be at least a few months salary that should have been paid during the notice period, plus redundancy payment, which could run into ten thousands of pounds if the case were in the UK. What employers worry about is employees who might sue for any perceived wrongdoing, whether real or not. Employers don't worry about suing in a case like this, where the next employer will just shake his head in disbelief of the stupidity of the previous employer and has no intention whatsoever to misbehave in such a bad way.

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    Excellent opinion. Give up your rights because you might get blacklisted. Employers don't like someone who might sue them for making the smallest mistake. 99% of employers don't mind if you sued an ex-employer who behaved in the most stupid and obnoxious way, since they are quite sure that they wouldn't behave in that way.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Apr 30, 2016 at 21:16
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    why so snarky? That's not very constructive. And while I will concede your point that some employers don't mind, I think your percentage almost opposite of reality - 99% of employers would be concerned about an employee that sued. Why sue? What's to gain? You've been dismissed - and the value to suing the employer is what exactly? Commented Apr 30, 2016 at 21:20
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    In what eventuality would a future employer even get to know that you had sued for wrongful dismissal? I''m with gnasher here: advising someone to give up their rights out of wrongheaded paranoia is very poor advice indeed. Commented May 1, 2016 at 2:59
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    @DewiMorgan - Wrongheaded paranoia? Again - why so snarky? I personally know of a friend who did exactly that: sued his employer for lost wages. He won. He cannot find a job right now because it was printed in the local paper, and all of the prospective employers are declining to even interview him. So - sure, you can sue - and you can be right - but the caution is to consider the consequence - it is possible (I'd say likely) that future employers can find out, and it can impact your ability to get a new job. Commented May 1, 2016 at 15:37
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    @cale_b You're right. In small communities where news gets around, you could get in trouble - even internationally, if your field is specialized enough. It infuriates me that anyone should feel the need to check their rights at the door just to remain employable, but rights become meaningless if upholding them means poverty. Unfortunately, this fear is why most states have terrible worker's rights and no unions or guilds: if nobody takes a stand, everybody gets screwed. Commented May 2, 2016 at 15:27

At this point is is wise to document all of your correspondence with your employer. The simplest way to do this is to either communicate primarily by email or to confirm any conversations by email.

Eg. if you have a phone conversation then leave it a few hours or so and then send an email saying something like. "Further to our conversation earlier today I understand that... [here describe what you understood the conversation to have meant]..." As well as providing you with a record of what has been discussed this also gives both sides a chance to cool off and write a considered response.

Here it is in your best interests to make a big effort to be cool and professional and set out your position in a measured, rational and non-emotive way. If the dispute escalates then this will only strengthen your position. Above all avoid using any language which could be considered insulting, aggressive or abusive simply state your case clearly and concisely.

Also bear in mind that this may be a misunderstanding, if you have just finished a tight deadline project your boss may be stressed and may have got the wrong end of the stick.

Similarly in this sort of situation it is always wise to give the other person a way to back down gracefully, they may even now be regretting their approach but be too embarrassed to apologise, Even if this it not the case a conciliatory approach does you no harm, may calm the situation in the short term and provides evidence that you are behaving reasonably.


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