Have I been fired?

Richard Schlesinger visits Herman Miller, the creator of iconic chairs and furniture, as well as the dreaded work cubicle. So what's in store for today's workplace?

(MoneyWatch) I received two emails from readers today asking if they had been fired. The first, with subject line "Fired without notice."

I work(ed) at an automotive shop in NY. At the time I'm currently on vacation. I went to view my schedule for the date I am to return to work and I'm not on the schedule. I am 3 months pregnant at the moment. I was not informed of any termination or layoff and they still have not contacted me. I need a little advice on how to go about this matter.

And the second:I was suspended for and investigated because something was stolen from the workplace. The cops were involved and everything. They brought an investigator in to do his work and they found nothing on me. They told me the day it happened that they were going to suspend me, not terminate, so I took my suspension. Well it's been almost 2 months and I haven't heard anything back from them. Except, one of my friends that works there said that I was terminated but I was never given a notice or signed any paper work. I was just wondering if that was legal or what?

My advice to both people, and to numerous people everywhere, get off the computer. Stop googling. Stop writing advice columnists and pick up the phone, call your boss and ask. And when you ask, ask with the assumption that you are not fired and that everything is okay. So, for the first person, call and say, "Hi, this is Alice. I noticed I'm not on the schedule for the week of August 12th. Is there anyway that can be changed to add me, since my vacation officially ends August 10th?

And for the second, "Hi, this is Alice. It's been two months since I was suspended and I haven't heard anything. What day should I return to work?" 

Now, at this point, if you have been fired, they will let you know. But, in the first place, it's probably just a scheduling snafu. Being 3 months pregnant probably has nothing to do with it. In the second case, since she didn't follow up after the suspension, they company probably assumes that she just quit, which may mean she's out of job, even though she wasn't fired. This probably wouldn't have happened if she'd asked at the start of the suspension how long the suspension was for.

Asking questions can be scary. And it's absolutely true that sometimes getting outside help is a good thing, but the reality is, when your question is, "Was I fired?" there's no advice columnist in the world that can tell you the answer to that. You have to go to your boss. I can explain what your legal rights are (if you were fired because you were pregnant, for instance, that's illegal, but if you were fired because they realized that you were doing so little work that they didn't miss you while you were on vacation, that's legal), and I can explain the process that many managers go through in deciding to terminate someone, but I cannot tell you if your manager has decided to fire you.

A cowboy will tell you, "Don't drink downstream." If you stop and think about that for a few minutes, you'll probably cringe and realize the wisdom in that. The application goes far and wide--if you want to know what someone is thinking, that person is the absolute best source for that information. And while it is sometimes good to get some outside information to help you figure out what the possible responses will be or how best to phrase something, at the end of it all, you still have to ask.

So, stop putting off asking questions that you need to know the answers to. Your life will be a lot easier if you just start asking, so you can find out where you stand and where you need to go from here.

Have a workplace dilemma? Send your questions to EvilHRLady@gmail.com.