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THE QUESTION:

I work as an education consultant in assessment. My boss has written me a letter warning of "swift and severe action." I'm not surprised because she told me she was going to put me under intense scrutiny when she was upset with an opinion I expressed.

She is basing her threat on two e-mails I sent. In one, which was sent to another supervisor, she said I am insubordinate. In the other, I took issue with a newly hired colleague for leaving me out of a salutation in an e-mail and then talking about me within it to give an assignment. I had asked this party to keep the matter between the two of us, which is our conflict resolution protocol. The boss ignored that, sided with the other party, and wrote the letter to me.

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I haven't been at work since receiving the letter and I'm trying to resign before I am terminated. I would like an exit strategy to preserve my dignity and come out with a reference.

I am also aware of a misappropriation of funds on behalf of the boss. Should I try to stir the pot and hope I come out with the upper hand?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Billy Anderson

Founder, Made You Think Coaching, Toronto

Wow, this is more confusing than programming the clock on my stove.

I can understand not wanting to be terminated, but there's a chance it won't happen. Many companies prefer to lay people off rather than face potential legal action that can result from termination. Being laid off often comes with severance which makes looking for a new job moderately less terrifying. However, sitting around waiting to be laid off can be disempowering.

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I'm confused when you say you're trying to resign before you get terminated. In the time it took you to write to us for advice, you could have resigned. So I feel like there's more on your mind. What kind of upper hand are you hoping to achieve? Is it just ego-related or something more tangible? Our ego rarely has good advice.

The one thing you have for the rest of your life is your reputation, so don't cut what can be untied. Have you tried to clear things up with your boss? Most relationships can be made bearable if people stop making accusations and have a real conversation. How might this look from your boss's perspective?

Have you spoken to the human resources department? Were they given a copy of this "swift and severe action" letter? Ask HR what your options are.

Imagine yourself a year from now looking back: What will you wish you had done?

THE SECOND ANSWER:

Heather MacKenzie

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The Integrity Group, Vancouver

You say you want to develop an exit strategy. On the facts presented, this seems like the right thing to be considering. But remember that resigning is final and should always be an option of last resort.

Arrange a meeting with your boss and/or HR to explore these problems and whether there is still a viable role for you within the organization. If you get the message that you have no future there, turn the discussion toward an exit package covering things such as severance pay, benefits, a reference letter, and so on. Be respectful and professional.

While "swift and severe action" may be coming, for the moment you are still employed, so you have time to ponder your options while you are off work. You don't say whether you are off work using vacation or for other reasons. If there is more to this story, retaining an employment lawyer may be worthwhile.

As to "stirring the pot" to gain the "upper hand," this is not advisable. You did not act at the time on knowledge that a manager may have "misappropriated" funds, so you shouldn't now try to use that to leverage a better departure. You are in a tenuous position, so this may attract accusations of blackmail.

Remember that it is much easier to look for work while you still have a job. If you are intent on leaving, you should be looking now.

Are you facing a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that minefield? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com. Confidentiality ensured. Weigh in with your view at tgam.ca/careers. Check out past columns at http://tgam.ca/DjTz

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