Q. I've worked for my company for nine years. I like my job and expected to retire three years from now.
Two months ago, the owner had a heart attack and died. He left the company to his wife.
Last week, she asked me to meet with her. She told me I needed to find a new job by the end of the month.
It was hard enough that a man I respected had died, but to lose my job? I haven't been able to see straight since she dropped this bomb on me. I need to know if there's anything I can do to keep my job.
A. When a new owner says, "It's time for you to move on," but you want to stay, find out why she decided to send you packing. Does she want to take the company in a new direction, rendering your job obsolete? Does she have a friend she wants to slide into your position? Does she not like you because of your age or some other personal reason -- maybe she felt you had unusual loyalty to her husband? Does she feel you perform below her expectations?
When you ask your questions, ask them neutrally and non-confrontationally. You might start with, "What led you to decide you want me to look for work elsewhere?" If you let anger creep into your questions, she may shut down before you learn crucial information.
Realize too that you may learn more from what's not said than what is said. For example, if she simply says, "It's just time for you to move on," it may mean she has no legitimate business reason for her decision.
Laws in Alaska protect employees from unfair treatment. If your new owner wants you gone because she wants to give your job to a friend or doesn't like you for a personal or prejudicial reason, document exactly what she says.
Although Alaska recognizes the "employment at will" doctrine allowing employers to terminate employees for any or no reason, Alaska courts observe three exceptions to this doctrine: public policy, implied contract and good faith and fair dealing.
Public policy protects employees from firings related to discriminatory prejudices such as those related to age, sex, race, pregnancy, disability, parenthood, religion and marital status.
Public policy also protects employees from being fired because they legitimately filed a worker's compensation claim or exercised another protected right.
Implied contract protects employees who have been guaranteed rights by their employee handbook or by a manager making promises such as "You'll always have a job here."
The covenant of good faith and fair dealing means your new owner needs to treat you honestly, fairly and ethically, in part because of your nine years there.
You may want to retain an attorney. She may be able to help you keep your job, bargain for a longer grace period, secure a hefty severance or sue for wrongful discharge. Alternatively, a good attorney may advise that you'll lose more than you gain by pursing legal remedies.
If the new owner wants you gone because you perform below her expectations, ask her what you'd need to show her for her to want you to stay. Then, use the month she gave you to convince her to keep you on, while looking for a new job on your lunch hour and after work.
If your company's new owner wants to take the company in a new direction, she can legitimately reorganize the company, eliminating your job; however, she still needs to treat you fairly in the process.
Finally, all of us get bombed during our careers. Some of us accept jobs in companies that downsize our positions out of existence; others of us find ourselves supervised by a manager we can't stand who insultingly reduces our responsibility and autonomy. Still others learn we've supervised embezzlers or snakes and have to dig ourselves and careers out of a disaster.
No matter how well you handle a career crisis, it hurts -- and then you recover.
Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @lynnecurry10.