I've been working at a startup for about 18 months now. I used to report to the key engineer for my division, but he left a couple months after I started. It's to my understanding that he worked crazy overtime for a year straight, and the CEO/boss reneged on several promises (stock options, bonuses, paid time off, etc).
Despite trying to keep the guy on board with massive last-minute raises and bonuses, the key engineer quit. The boss also withheld his final pay check and various other cash-based guaranteed benefits until he was actually sued (successfully) by said engineer.
The next day, I inherited the position of "key engineer". While I can do a lot of the work he used to do, there's no way I can do all of it (high degree of specialization), nor can I keep up the same amount of overtime with a family and elderly parents to take care of.
I'm planning to resign soon, since the the CEO has apparently pulled the same stunt with me as he did with my former colleague (apparently the agreements the boss provided me were "draft" agreements, and they only had my signature, and not a counter-signature from a C-level executive of the company). However, if I quit, the company will have to stop production (I'm the only Professional Engineer/P.Eng. on staff), and the project will be canceled (this isn't a guess or false modesty, but rather a certainty; unlike in similarly themed questions on this site). My boss has also threatened to sue me if I leave at this time, which I'm not concerned with, as I'll serve the full notice period (all engineers have 3 months notice periods, corresponding to 3 months severance pay in the event of termination of employment).
Is there anything I can do to help the junior engineers in case the boss decides to shut down the company on the spot? All engineers are entitled to at least 12 weeks of severance pay, but I have a very strong suspicion the boss will try to withhold final paychecks, bully junior staff into not claiming full severance, etc. These kids don't have the resources to take this guy to court like our former key engineer did.
Thoughts so far:
- I can't just inform the junior engineers in advance, as that would be "enticement to leave", which would be grounds for me being (successfully) sued.
- I've consulted with my provincial labor board, and there's nothing they can do prior to five weeks after an "incident", so that's more than a month without a paycheck in a bearish local labor market.
- I can resign on a payday so the junior engineers have at least two weeks' pay in-hand.
If worse comes to worse, I will be gifting each of them two weeks of pay out-of-pocket, since it's a drop in the bucket for me at this stage in my career. I just really don't want to see these guys being evicted or getting swindled out of 12 weeks of pay they've earned.
What a morning. The usual direct deposit of checks didn't go through last Friday, and it almost came down to a shouting match when I demanded the boss cut physical checks on the spot. I made a point of walking 10 minutes down the street to deposit my check, and most of my colleagues did the same.
I tendered my resignation after depositing the check, and the boss is furious. We spent about 20 minutes with me declining multiple raise offers and tiny bonuses. I literally asked for $XZY,000.00 (the combined value of the stock and bonuses in my "draft" agreements) on the spot, and he lost it. He now has to "fly out to head office to do damage control". I'm still expected to be in the office, but my laptop was confiscated and all my accounts and key fob were deactivated. I'm expected to coordinate with another employee to get into the building in the morning, which I declined, and the boss is trying to make a case for me "being uncooperative" during my notice period and not being eligible for pay during that time.
Finally, I told the boss I wouldn't be signing off on any new designs while I didn't have a laptop or access, as it would be dishonest to sign off on something I can't actually review, and it could incur massive liability for me. I'll update this thread with anything relevant as this proceeds.
The company is folding. The boss made an informal announcement that severance pay may be delayed due to "the selfish choices" of some members of staff. I printed off the labor board's dispute resolution forms to help expedite having the total severance paid off immediately in case the company runs out of funds and tries to avoid paying severance. Fortunately, all the checks cleared for all employees.
Yesterday, after lunch, me and the team come back to the office to find the doors are locked, and backpacks/coats left outside of the door. Nobody has e-mail, VPN, etc, access. So, the first thing I do is get everyone's personal contact info, and prepare a "dispute resolution package" provided by the provincial labor board. I fill out the concerns/issues, the amount of pay I feel I'm owed and why (ie: vacation, salary, equity, etc), and sent a letter to the boss' personal email stating I was concerned why the doors were locked without notice, and to please read the attached labor board letter which notes concerns for myself and my colleagues. About 30 minutes later, I receive an e-mail with a brief rant, followed by a suggestion that I "*#$% off".
The labor board package normally requires that the employer be provided with 2 weeks to respond formally to the request. I replied back explaining this, and that his reply of "**** off" was interpreted as officially declining to respond to the initial request. I included the e-mail, plus full headers, as part of a package I printed off, and couriered to the labor board. This works out quite well for me and the team, since it means the team should likely see their severance pay before end-of-month, rather than having to wait an extra 2-3 weeks on top.
The boss then called me, said some nasty stuff, and hung up. For the rest of the week, most of the team agreed to join up at a cafe near our old office, where I'll be providing letters of reference, resume writing help, paying for lunch and drinks, etc. I think they'll get through this OK.
Who would have thought being told to **** off would be so helpful?
It turns out I didn't need to help the boys with their paychecks, as I ended up investing just shy of $8000.00 in legal fees to "light a fire" under my now ex-employer's feet. The guys all got their severance checks for about 2 months of pay. We could try and go for the full 3, but the boss might actually not be able to cough up the full amount.
The boss' first move after locking us out was to inform our backer/financier what was happening, and to freeze/withdraw funds for operation of the company to limit liability. The backer refused due to the legal repercussions this could bring about, but the boss was apparently also a backer in the operation, and tried to withdraw "his share" of the remaining capital (apparently he was a 1/3 shareholder). After a lot of nasty legal letters written by our respective attorneys going back and forth (almost comical, seeing multiple exchanges via secure courier per day; like watching two people send mean Tweets back and forth via snail mail), we all (myself included) got our checks.
My best analysis is that the other investors coughed up their "share" of our severance checks, and the boss has opted to withhold what he owes. I won't be pursuing any further action against him, other than sending some updated correspondence to the labor board. Since they'll be handling the bulk of the grunt work, it's no skin off my back to have one more letter drafted.
I'm glad I was able to help the boys (they were in no position to cough up $8000.00 on the spot), and that they got to learn something about the nasty side of this industry without being burned or becoming too jaded/cynical themselves. I encouraged them to "pass it forward" when they eventually become wealthy engineers themselves, and gave them each a half-dozen sealed letters of reference. I'm going to take a few months off, and then probably start a small corporation for consulting work. I can't take on any of the boys as employees, as the non-compete is potentially enforceable, but it'd be a one-man-show anyways.
Thanks everyone, for listening, and for the advice!