I thought it was about time to write an article on how I was recently fired from my job with one of the Internet’s leading moderation companies. It’s been a couple of months now, so I am confident that I can write this in a non-reactionary way since I am trying to be informational rather than adversarial; I am not even going to mention their name and I am confident that very few people will actually know for sure which company I am referring to. I am not worried about libel; I am well covered by the new UK whistle-blower laws – But pending the result of a couple of potential criminal investigations against the company I think I will keep names out if for now.
I’d worked for them for a few years – I am a Brit in Canada and they are headquartered in the UK with a shell-office in the USA. The contract I signed when I joined was oddly written and didn’t look like it had ever seen the inside of lawyer’s office – There were clauses in there which were obviously in reaction to previous issues they’d had such as “You agree that while working for us you will be engaged on a freelance independent contractor basis and will not be our employee.” – A clause which any employment lawyer would tell them is pretty much worthless. There is also no geographical basis to the contract nor any acknowledgement that other national laws may take precedence. This company is also quite proud of the fact that they make all staff go through police checks – There was a problem with mine since I’d moved around a while earlier so I was told on the phone to lie on the form so that it would pass. I should probably have known there was something amiss at this point.
Are you bored yet? Sorry – I will get back to the story!
On the day I was fired I had been working solidly every day for blocks of about 10 hours for 465 days, without a break – That’s no weekends, no Christmas … Nothing. 465 days earlier, I had been at a work meeting in the USA, and the day before I flew home was my “day off”. I had 1 day off in 2010, 9 days off in 2011, 4 days off in 2012 and that was it. I was considered a good employee, I was told so on numerous occasions and just prior to leaving they had jiggled a number of clients so that I could be the person to moderate them. I had zero idea or warning that they were gunning for me.
So why was I fired? Well – I don’t know! I wasn’t told. I woke up one morning and my phone was complaining it couldn’t get the work calendar. I tried to login and I wasn’t able to. I had an email on my personal account to call the big-boss and she told me on the phone that I “obviously wasn’t happy at the company, and we had incompatibilities and I wasn’t following the correct procedures”. That was it – Nothing more was explained, no emails followed – Just a final payment from them a few weeks later that was sent without me invoicing them (so much for freelancers!). In respect to the correct procedures, I had had a meeting with my line manager two weeks earlier where I had explained that I often didn’t and this was why people wanted me on their projects and he said he knew this and promised to back me up with people in case there were issues (which there never had been). Ironically the two things quoted at me (not using the company enforced browser and not using their timekeeping system) were both false since I used both.
And so, it is for me to speculate the real reasons…
I had been openly worried about changes to the company – I had expressed grave concerns that not only were we double billing clients, I was also put into the position of having to moderate two competing companies at the same time (that unless there were changes I knew nothing about, were paying for my exclusive time). This meant that if there was a rush on one company, the other would essentially have to be ignored and this happened often. I didn’t like this and I didn’t want to work on projects where this was the case; so I had arranged to be removed from them, even though I had worked on them for years and in one case, co-managed. When I asked the scheduling manager if we were double billing, I was told yes, and that the money was being used to “do up the house” of the Managing Director. This wasn’t exactly very reassuring.
I had also mailed the week earlier to express concern that I was working illegally. An accountant had told me that I could not work 70 hours a week, every single day for nearly two years and claim to be freelance – Having read the Canadian regulations this was indeed the case and they were also liable for years of back holiday pay, overtime etc. I asked them to work out a way of making me a “proper employee” like they had done to the US staff and were about to do to the UK staff and was told quite rudely that I was talking nonsense and to shut up and carry on. I probably shouldn’t have expected much else; when I pointed out that most of the UK staff were also working illegally and they should fix it before they were found out and liable to millions of pounds in fines and ten years of back payments, I was also told I was wrong, and to shut up. This is an area of law I know a lot about. I was not wrong – But I did shut up.
The last email I got before I left was one from a colleague expressing concern about a moderator in Ireland who was working on one of the major projects that weekend… He had apparently been complaining about being tired but still had the whole weekend to work with only a 5 hour sleeping gap. Occasionally I’d worked 60 hour days – But thankfully not too often. They claim that they don’t allow this – But it’s their schedulers who allocate the hours. They claim a lot of things about staff-welfare that are complete fiction though. I remember reading an article about them in a British newspaper about how the rotas are planned sensitively to give staff a chance to recover from stressful projects. I am pretty sure they interviewed the wrong company.
A few days before I was fired, a friend of mine at the company was also fired. She’d been working for another company and she acknowledges that they had grounds to fire her – It probably should have been a written warning, but that’s not how they operate. In actual fact they actually hacked a competitor to get this information (I wish I was making this up!); a matter of which I was quite open about how I felt having worked in security and policing for most of my life. Over the course of the next few days they read all her emails and chat-logs to essentially go on a witch hunt.
As Wilde said – “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” – Hummmm.