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Unbelievable work expectations in VA

by Beth
(Virginia Unemployment Benefits)

Hi, I am in a relatively new job that has become untenable. I left a paying job 35 miles away from me to move close to home and to do work that was in my field of interest. However, the job has not been what I felt was presented at the interview.

I was hired as a legal assistant for, I was told, two attorneys, with the possibility of having to do some work every now and then for a third. However, since the day I started, I have been working for four, and they're planning on hiring a fifth. Not only that, a long-term legal assistant is really struggling to keep up (though he has experience that I lack), and a seasoned paralegal left the week after I started and has not been replaced. These changes all occurred between the time I was hired and the day I started, but I've been telling them that this creates an extenuating circumstance that should allow me a greater learning curve as more is being placed upon me than anybody knew.

I told them at my interview that I had no experience in the type of law they practice, and I asked them at that time if that would be a problem. I was told it would not. But since I started the job just shy of three months ago, I haven’t been able to get any training, had not been provided with a list of expectations or job duties, nor have they provided me with attainable milestones that I can work towards. Additionally, though I am used to a lot of work, the work load is insane, yet they warn me that right now is SLOW! Just today, about 10 days shy of being there three months, I finally got the list of expectations and job duties -- two pages' worth -- but this was prompted by a meeting where I can see the writing on the wall. They are now backtracking on what they told me at the interview, and the heavier workload is attributed to "things change, and sometimes quickly." The problem is, I would never have taken a job that would have been so out of my league, especially since I had a job already.

I have been given the weekend to think over their list and decide if I can handle the work. I don't know that I can, especially since they will not help train me in what they want done. After the meeting today, I asked all involved (the attorneys and HR) to provide me with some goals I can strive to meet. All I was told was to learn how to prioritize when given tasks by more than one attorney (something
I already do and is not a production goal). However, from what I seem to read from your other comments, if I quit for those reasons, it may not be good enough cause to allow me to qualify for UI benefits. Do I wait for them to fire me or give me the "quit or be fired" option? I don't see this working out. I have not officially been written up or given any warnings other than today when they said they expect me to do all the tasks (though not limited to same) provided in their list.

I have recently documented all of these issues and sent them to HR, along with specific names, comments, and situations. Far from helping, I am sure this will cause tension as they see that I am starting to cover my bases.

So, my question is, what do I do? Go in on Monday and say I can do the job when I know I can't meet their expectations and wait for them to fire me, or do I go in on Monday and say I am incapable of taking on such a tremendous workload since they will provide me no training no matter how much I ask for it?

Chris's Response: Unbelievable work expectations in VA

It seems clear to me that they are formally trying to document a change to the terms and "conditions" of employment that were presented verbally at the time you accepted the job.

A blanket acceptance of the new terms wouldn't be good for you. Neither would quitting be my first choice.

I wouldn't quit, because if an employer really wants to lose me as an employee I'd always choose forcing the burden on them.

I'd document my position (likely focusing on what I perceive to be my inabilities .. request training and/or goals again and make sure to include a little history regarding the original terms and conditions of hire for comparative use later.

Training seems vital to your success and that they initially claimed your lack of experience in their type of law was not a problem, seems to me training would of been discussed or at the very least, a natural assumption made by you. Keep asking as when/if they terminate you for performance .. it supports the need for inability vs. negligent performance or .. you telling them Monday you think you can do the job as outlined on two pages.

If you quit now, you would have to be able to prove how the employer managed to basically, make the job "unsuitable work" for you by changing the conditions and not trying to accommodate any of the needs you feels you have to perform the changed duties.

VA Precedent Manual

Comments for Unbelievable work expectations in VA

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Jun 10, 2012
Thank you, Chris
by: Beth

Thanks for your input. I spent many hours this weekend reading and saving comments and advice you gave other people that was similar to my own.

I have decided on Monday that I will neither admit or deny that I can do the job because, frankly, they have given me no documentable expectations and no answer to questions as to how quickly I should be able to do the job. Asking me IF I can do the job is not the same as communicating to me WHEN they expect me to be able to do it. Sure, I CAN do the job -- but it could easily be a year or so before I'm adept enough in it (based on the density of the tasks and the type of law). This was already admitted to me by one of the attorneys -- yet now they are talking as if I'm not meeting up to some undefined expectations.

Instead of a blanket acceptance of the job duties/new terms, would I do better to say that I will continue trying to do the job to the best of my ability? That way, I'm not hemming myself in to a promise that I CAN do the job (because a lot of factors will determine whether I actually can do the job, like whether training is forthcoming, changes in job duties, and fluctuating workloads) and then leave it at that. And I WILL do the job to the best of my ability -- but between us, I just don't think that I can meet their outrageous expectations now.

The biggest problem is there are no clearly-defined expectations. A job list alone isn't enough for me to know when I should be able to work independently in these areas. They say they don't expect me to jump right into this position and that they know it'll take time, yet other things they say tells me that they're not happy with my progress. HR says they will get me training, then they say, no, it's on-the-job training. The number of people I would be supporting changed from the time of my interview until the day I started, and all they tell me now is "things change. You have to be able to accept change." However, those changes directly affect me and my productivity, and I wasn't even a party to the change. Had I known going in, I knew my limitations and would have said I couldn't support four people. I wasn't given the choice. I've asked for training OR time, and I'm essentially being told no to both.

This is what makes me SO angry. They changed the terms and didn't give a full picture of the job scope at my interview; and based on what they told me, I left a good-paying job to take this one. Additionally, I am intelligent and VERY willing to learn the job, but nobody wants to even give me the chance.

I have spent this last week documenting EVERYTHING. At least if they let me go (which I highly anticipate), I have shown where over and over again I have been asking for help and the fact that other coworkers have been complaining about their workloads for some time now.

Jun 10, 2012
by: Peggy

Good luck to you Beth. Chris gives excellent advise and has helped me win my appeal over 2 yrs ago and I'm on the right path again working. I know how you must feel and there is nothing worse then feeling like you do then having to step foot in that place and not knowing what to expect first. I wish you the best of luck. Just take a deep breath & do your job the best you can & document everything that happens! That is Chris's main statement is "document-document-document" then you have your evidence if need be.
You are in my prayers!

Jun 11, 2012
Underscore the Unreasonableness of the Expectations
by: Chris

I think you've got the right ides, however my main concern is that by asking you the ridiculous question of whether you believe you can meet these new expectations .. it's nothing more than a ploy to urge a quit. So,I agree with your evaluation of the situation. It's never a good idea to lock yourself down to a position with no room to maneuver.

I have this mental imaged of a burden of proof and it looks like a tennis ball.

The goal is to make sure the ball dies on the employers' side of the net ..

If they won't allow you a reasonable amount of time to learn and acclimate yourself to these new unreasonable amount of duties .. just make sure they end up the moving party whether you quit or become terminated.

Make certain your documentation counters a discharge for failing to meet the standards and expectations the employer reasonably has a right to expect (Determ. language).

A basic strategy for proving poor performance as misconduct is to establish successful performance to compare later performance to.

However, most employees do not counter document well enough to establish that a change in the expectations occurred, nor their effort to seek assistance or training and so the fall off in performance is chalked up to a negligent attitude when it all has to point toward inability or something else related to the work that is beyond the employees control.

I'm hoping your employer will be reasonable and give you time, but if not, always stress you made them aware you only do a job to the best of your ability and remind them you have asked for training, guidance, and a reasonable length of time to achieve the new expectations the employer.

Jun 11, 2012
Well, they fired me
by: Beth

I just got home after two meetings with the same parties today. I am now unemployed.

At this morning's meeting, they asked me if I had gone over the list. I said I had. They asked me what I thought. I said that on Friday I had requested some sort of time frame by which they expected me to be adequately doing my job (though I don't even know what is "adequate" to them as it has remained undefined) which would help me to understand the whole picture. They said that my question was bizarre and they didn't know why I was asking it. The HR manager said that I should consider from this day forward I am to perform all the tasks. I told them that I would continue to work to the best of my ability considering that everybody agreed on Friday that I'm still in a major learning curve. They didn't seem to like this answer.

They expressed concern for the stress I had been exhibiting due to the work level that has been put upon me. I assured them that, since our talk on Friday -- again reiterating that they expressed an understanding that I'm still learning and that they don't expect me to be able to do the job flawlessly right now -- my stress level had come way down and I would now be able to focus on learning the job instead of being concerned that I was being judged and treated differently because I was not up to some undefined par. I told them they would not see me exhibit that again and that (again) I would continue to do the job to the best of my ability.

One of the attorneys tried engaging me in an argument about the time critical task I was given over a week ago. All I could say was that I had attempted to use my resources in asking for help, but all she wanted to do was cut me off and argue. All I could do was sit there and say nothing while she accused me of acquiescing by my silence.

We left the meeting with me reiterating that I will do the job to the best of my ability (yes, I sounded like a broken record), and I went on my way and proceeded to work and was as pleasant to them as if nothing had happened.

I had already created a list of "based on our meeting on Friday" pointers over the weekend from last week's meeting. I had e-mailed it to myself to send to the HR manager so that I had on record what was discussed. After this morning's meeting, I added some clarifications based on this morning's meeting. I did this during lunch and sent it to HR. Less than 30 minutes later, they called me in and they simply said that this isn't working and it's not a good fit and today would be my last day. I asked why this was, since I had just been given the list of job duties on Friday and I hadn't been given the chance to do anything with it. They just stuck to the, "it's not a good fit and it's not working." All I could do was say okay, thanks, and leave.

And now here I am.

Jun 11, 2012
I'm feeling empathy for you, but I can't say I'm shocked.
by: Chris

Ready to file for unemployment?

My guess, you didn't play the game as expected. You didn't lie down like a rug, nor quit in a huff after someone tried to provoke you into it.

So, they decided to cut their "losses" instead (meaning any UI claim liability which seems to me would be minimal) and move on to someone willing to agree to untenable expectations .. whether they secretly think so or not.

Employers do have the authority to direct and control how we perform our duties at work, but as employees we should understand that we have a duty to ourselves and a right to protect ourselves from becoming that person whose only recourse is to act like a victim in the future should things not work out as we expect .. especially if we tend to keep blinders to reality on as a coping mechanism.

I do empathize with you for the job loss, but this type of situation stopped shocking me years ago.

I've actually tried to rosy up the way I see things and attempt to explain this stuff over the years, but then some situation comes along that serves to convince me once again .. my cynicism is justified.

Jun 12, 2012
I'm also not shocked
by: Beth

Actually, I'm SO not shocked that I emptied 90 percent of my desk on Friday so I wouldn't have to take that "walk of shame" that I knew was coming.

I tried to start filing unemployment when I got home last night, but there was some glitch in the online system that told me I needed to contact the office by phone. By that time, the office was closed.

I have pages of notes and e-mails. I have no idea how much I'll get in unemployment, but I worry it won't be much. I worked for six months immediately before taking this job (since I left that job to take this one), but I don't know if that helps. Additionally, I have $30,000 in student loan debt that kicked in at the time I started the first job.

Do I sound bitter and angry? You bet I am. And I do NOT roll over. When backed into a corner, I come out swinging with everything I've got. And when wronged and mistreated, I don't just burn bridges, I blow them up. I will do everything that's within my power in this.


I know you're good as far as the VA VQ disqualification being purged, but I had concerns about your base period and monetarily qualifying at this time.

VA has an alternative BP they can use in order to qualify folks when the standard BP doesn't work .. I think you're good on that count.

You can also estimate your WBA from the data in the monetary chartbook linked to above.


Jun 12, 2012
Hi Beth
by: Peggy

Hi Beth,

It is me Peggy again. I can totally understand how this is for you. I quit my job due to employer harassment and I won my case built on documents I had collected over a few months & also sending those emails to my personal email address as well. When you are ready to leave you don't want nothing of your personal belongings there and at least you have your proof of documents that would of been emailed to you at home. I know you were let go & I hope you have documented notes on dates & questions you may have. File unemployment ASAP since the process takes awhile. Good luck to you & try to keep your chin up on this & fight for your rights!
Please keep in touch on the ending results!

Jun 25, 2012
I have a question
by: Beth

Hi Chris: Sorry to bother you here on this, and I'll admit ahead of time I didn't do a search on this -- sorry for that as well -- but I have a question. I am just now trying to file for unemployment that ended two weeks ago (I had an unexpected trip that took me out of town all last week). The automated message asks if I worked between (beginning date -- whatever it was) and March 31. I did, but I began the job on March 19th and worked until June 11. If I file for unemployment right now, will they only base my wages off my earnings for those 12 days? If so, should I be waiting to file since the bulk of my earnings was after the 31st?

Also, they want to know about my last 18 months of employment. The job I had for six months before the one I was fired from (and from which I left to take the new job) was in Maryland, not Virginia. I'm assuming that means that nothing from that job will even be considered?

This is all just such a cluster. At first I was thinking the VEC would have about 9 months to consider, but it wasn't until I was listening to the prompts that I realized that six of those months wasn't even IN Virginia. :(

So I guess my overall question is, is there a better strategy for me to get the most benefits from this whole mess? :(

Hi Beth,

I don't mind questions .. unless they lack evidence of good sense at work:)

Your question .. seems a natural question that would be asked .. because it can get confusing .. even for me. Really, I sometimes have to pull my socks off to figure out the beginning and end of a base period.

First of all, if you don't happen to qualify monetarily for benefits.. you can always appeal if you think they got the wages in your base period wrong.

(Feel free to contact me via email if you're denied monetarily and I'll help you figure out if an appeal would be worth the effort or not).

Worst case scenario, you may just have to wait until the next quarter starts to requalify .. that's what pulls wages into the new base period which moves forward by a quarter .. with each ending quarter. This is also, contingent upon the BPs' available to a State to try to monetarily qualify a person.

There's standard, extended, and alternative BPs.

As far as wages paid to you in a different state .. there's always the possibility you could qualify with a CWC (combined wage claim) .. This is the state's thing to know .. therefore they are asking you about wages paid in the last 18 months because they do have the ability to have wage credits from a different state transferred to make sure you are paid the proper WBA.

Remember, the way standard BP's work (first 4 of the last 5 COMPLETED quarters) there is the possibility of 6 months (two quarters) of wages lagging.

Jun 25, 2012
Thanks again
by: Beth

Since I'm so close to the end of a quarter, I would wonder if I should just wait the extra week or so to file. Thankfully it's not a full three months. That way, I wouldn't even have to take the time with a possible appeal, etc.

If I knew I would have sufficient wages simply by waiting five more days .. that's exactly, what I'd do.

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