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How do I find a job after my last termination?
July 18, 2011 11:49 AM   Subscribe

I know you're not my lawyer or a lawyer at all.. but I need some help. Recently lost my job due to an alcohol-related relapse that happened off work hours. How do I move on from this?

As backstory, my boss found out about my relapse after a significant period of sobriety because he was calling me off hours and I answered my personal cell phone. I sounded drunk. My relapse never affected my work performance, responsibilities or ability to show up (my boss even conceded this when I was terminated). The reason why I was terminated was because it was a small firm and he thought it would be unhealthy for everyone else to be around me during my struggles.

My former employment and I had an awkward separation which turned into a disastrous one due to some misplaced work files on my part (which I returned promptly after notified). Bridges were burnt and I know that the separation is not copacetic.

I spoke to a lawyer and she said that this could easily fall under grounds for unlawful termination. I'm not interested in pursuing that. I don't want to fuel the fire. I just want to move on and get my feet under me again with my newly established sobriety. The lawyer also said something about just sending him a letter warning him against character defamation but that seems passive aggressive and sneaky.

So, here are my questions.. this job provided me with some important experience and skills.. should I still list it in my resume? Am I legally obligated to? How do I explain this massive blip during interviews? What are employers legally allowed to say when contacted? I'm obviously not providing my employer as a personal reference but should I even list him as work experience? Is he going to unleash a volcano of wrath? In my previous experience with him, he doesn't play by the rules (i.e. termination). Ugh, I'm letting my fears and emotions outweigh the facts, so I guess what I'm trying to do is gather the facts.. Any personal experience is welcomed as well.

Btw, I'm thinking of just pursuing retail jobs for now so nothing too overly ambitious... or is this even way above my abilities/work experience at this point? It seems like it might be the best fit temporarily. I'm a mid-twenties college educated person and have always remained with employers for 2+ years. I'm feeling a little defeated about everything in my life even before I begin so.. how do I move on from this?
posted by somersault to Work & Money (34 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Just to get more data, have your "struggles" ever impinged on your most recent employment? How does your boss know about them?
posted by endless_forms at 11:57 AM on July 18, 2011


What are employers legally allowed to say when contacted?

This may depend on where you are. Where are you?

In my work-life experience, if a company is big enough to have an HR department, that department will confirm your employment dates and salary, and not much else. People whose names you give as references will presumably sing your praises, but they're not (legally) required to, as far as I know. None of the states I've worked in (DC/MD/MA/ME/NH/CA) have or had, as far as I know, any state laws that either require or prohibit a former employer from accurately reporting your work habits, good and bad. Many companies seem to have migrated to a "confirm the basics, nothing else" as a way to avoid legal complications.

This may vary a ton depending on the size of the industry, size of the company, industry culture, and so on. IANAL.
posted by rtha at 12:01 PM on July 18, 2011


When I started working for him, I was honest about my sobriety/recovery. I've remained sober my entire time working for the employer up until the two weeks leading to my termination. My boss is also in recovery. We used to talk about it and whatnot. He said it wasn't healthy for him, specifically.

My relapse involved two different episodes over a span of two weeks off work hours and I've since been sober.
posted by somersault at 12:02 PM on July 18, 2011


Your dismissal sounds like the bullshittiest reason for dismissal I have ever heard. I'm overweight, does that mean I should be fired if my boss calls me after hours on my personal cell and when I answer the phone I'm chewing?

I would definitely include the job and experience/skills on your resume. There's really no reason not to. And I know you say you are not interested in pursuing unlawful termination but why is that?
posted by kate blank at 12:02 PM on July 18, 2011 [16 favorites]


Don't let this asshole push you around.

I spoke to a lawyer and she said that this could easily fall under grounds for unlawful termination. I'm not interested in pursuing that. I don't want to fuel the fire.

This son of a bitch started the fire. Nail his ass to the wall! Why don't you think he should answer for his illegal and scummy treatment of you?
posted by clockzero at 12:03 PM on July 18, 2011 [18 favorites]


The firm is tiny and does not have an HR department. I live in MN.

Yeah, but he threatened to sue me for the misplaced work files which I returned literally two hours later. And luckily avoided any lawsuit. When he called, he threatened to sue and press charges. He also screamed at me and told me I was a stupid moron, that I was always going to be a loser, and I should go kill myself.

To be honest, I just can't handle that sort of thing and I want to focus on what I can do for myself now. I'm sorry, he was what I considered to be first and foremost my employer but also a friend. It's been a few weeks from termination and I'm still reeling about this stuff.
posted by somersault at 12:06 PM on July 18, 2011


Yeah, but he threatened to sue me for the misplaced work files which I returned literally two hours later. And luckily avoided any lawsuit. When he called, he threatened to sue and press charges. He also screamed at me and told me I was a stupid moron, that I was always going to be a loser, and I should go kill myself.

1. You should be anonymous on this thread.
2. Tell your lawyer this.
3. Sue the bastard. It's apparent he isn't a friend and is a worse employer.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 12:08 PM on July 18, 2011 [23 favorites]


If your lawyer said it could easily be considered unlawful termination, and he/she is willing to work on contingency, it may well be worth your while to do so. "Putting things behind" doesn't have to mean accepting abuse or mistreatment. You can press on with your life and still collect lost wages.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 12:08 PM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, in the US that is the very definition of unlawful termination. HOWEVER, I recognize that that isn't what you were asking.

Should I still list it in my resume?

Yes

Am I legally obligated to?

Um, no? It's your resume!

How do I explain this massive blip during interviews?

"I left the firm."

What are employers legally allowed to say when contacted?

Hmm, well they're allowed to say a lot of things, SORT OF. Good firms will merely confirm employment. He is not a reference, and you'll not use him as a reference. You should discuss with him, in writing, the necessity that he confirm your employment if contacted.

I'm obviously not providing my employer as a personal reference but should I even list him as work experience? Is he going to unleash a volcano of wrath?

He sounds... troubled! Could be!

In other advice, you should not sell yourself short. Yes, it's fine to get a plain old job-job and tread water and have some income and whatnot while you get yourself together. But when you're ready, you should be making plans for the future. To be fair, I certainly would spend some time licking my wounds after this kind of incident.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 12:20 PM on July 18, 2011


Resumes are documents you create to represent your abilities to do a prospective job. There are many styles of resumes, including the chonological and the functional. On a job application, you may be required to list all previous employers (under penalty of losing the job if omissions/errors are later discovered), but unless instructed to only submit resumes with complete work history, you're under no obligation to do so, if you feel you can honestly and fairly discuss your qualifications for the job using another resume style.

Many firms have a policy of simply verifying prior employment and salary, and perhaps whether the former employee would be eligible for re-hire, when contacted by potential new employers. Many even decline to answer whether a former employer would be eligible for re-hire. If you want to find out what is being said about you by your former employer, simply have a friend call as if they were an HR person at a new place to which you've applied, and tell your old employer that they are checking your work history. Have them ask about the reason you left/were terminated, and if you'd be eligible for re-hire. You'll at least know, then, how you're being reported. Regardless of what was said in the heat of the moment as you were fired, your former employer probably understands that you need to work, and doesn't wish you ill enough that he'll actively screw with any new jobs you are trying to get. And most new employers understand that many people leave jobs under less than ideal circumstances. So long as you weren't embezzling from your previous employer, or doing something in your work that violated federal or state laws in an egregious fashion, I think you have to have some faith in the maturity of hiring managers, most of whom have probably been fired once or twice themselves.

Get out of your head, and go back to work. One day at a time.
posted by paulsc at 12:27 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dude, get a lawyer.
There is no reason for this bullshit, and this mistreatment. Shaming yourself isn't going to help the situation, and this old boss of yours sounds like he crossed many lines with concerns to employment law, employee/employer relationship.

/not a lawyer
posted by handbanana at 12:29 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't be intimidated by his crap. "Pressing charges?" Horseshit and bluster. The relationship with him is over, but don't be intimidated by that. Be pleased that it gives you insight into how unprofessional he is. Treat it now as purely business. And the business part of this is that unprofessional people will be inclined to give out information to others.

Lawyer up. Indicate to your lawyer a willingness to be reasonable and settle. Tell her that one of your main concerns is that this former employer may be the type to spread derogatory information about you, and look to make an agreement about that part of any settlement.
posted by tyllwin at 12:29 PM on July 18, 2011


I'm sorry, he was what I considered to be first and foremost my employer but also a friend

never again make the mistake of thinking someone you work for is ever your friend. When push comes to shove it's their ass they will cover.
posted by any major dude at 12:29 PM on July 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


A lawyer will help you here. You won't really have to do much of anything if you find the right lawyer, he or she will take care of all of this for you. You needn't fuel any fires. Please keep in mind that sticking up for yourself and being assertive about injustice is a big part of recovery.

As for your questions:

Should I still list it in my resume? Yes, absolutely.

Am I legally obligated to? List the job? No, you're not legally obligated to.

How do I explain this massive blip during interviews? Meaning, if you leave it off your resume entirely? Well, have you been doing anything else? Saying you were focusing on school, professional development, raising a family, anything, is better than nothing. Then again, nowadays, unemployment of over a year isn't unheard of, either.

What are employers legally allowed to say when contacted? That depends on your state, but for the most part, they're really only allowed to confirm your employment and the dates of said unemployment. But a good HR rep will tease out more.

I'm obviously not providing my employer as a personal reference but should I even list him as work experience? You probably shouldn't list him as your reference for that job, no. If you have a work colleague from that job, list him or her instead.

Is he going to unleash a volcano of wrath? He could. It would be illegal to say false things about you, though, that would hinder you from getting another job. That's why the lawyer you talked to suggested that you send a pre-emptive letter. It would be better if the lawyer did it anyway.

You mention that it's a small company. It's likely that if you sue, they will settle. Make sure your lawyer knows your concerns and puts a clause in the settlement agreement that states that for reference purposes, they must report your work as satisfactory, and not say anything negative about your work performance or your character. Then you can also say, when asked why you left that job by an interviewer, "My separation agreement with Firm X prevents me from discussing exactly why I left, but I can say that it was on good terms." It's on YOU to rehearse this, and all interview questions, to remain neutral about your relationship with Firm X!
posted by juniperesque at 12:30 PM on July 18, 2011


I think you are being treated badly. You may have grounds for challenging this, but you state that you do not choose to challenge the termination. So, use the grounds to force the employer to write you an honest, accurate and positive reference letter, and to be eligible for unemployment compensation. You were terminated without fair cause, and you are agreeing to accept the separation from your employer. Write up a brief draft of a reference letter - give him your bullet points for positive work performed.

You are eventually going to be better off out of the crappy situation, but you should not be made to accept such crappy circumstances.

Take good care of yourself, and I hope you are able to maintain your sobriety.
posted by theora55 at 12:33 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


He also screamed at me and told me I was a stupid moron, that I was always going to be a loser, and I should go kill myself.

Unless he completely went nutso, I really doubt that he said those exact words. Are you magnifying the things that he said in your head? That's all-or-nothing-thinking talking (common in addicts).
posted by Melismata at 12:51 PM on July 18, 2011


A lot of people have advised you to lawyer up, and I agree. Why? You have fallen into the classic American Employee Trap. Your boss has treated you as a friend, and you were honest with them. Then for friend-related reasons (calling you after hours; being scared of your recovery) he let you go. And you feel bad because he had acted friendly to you.

1) Drinking off the job is not work related (although if you are an at-will employee (and you probably are), they can fire you for no reason or any reason that is not discriminatory).
2) Dealing with a substance abuse problem (I am not a lawyer, you should get one; this is not legal advice) sounds like a possibly discriminatory action.
3) After firing you for off-hours conduct your boss forgot to collect all work property from you and has made you feel bad about it! Ridiculous!

If it were me, I would have a lawyer send them a letter. "Somersault is extremely distraught at your unprofessional and possibly illegal termination of him. He is expecting severance payment and a signature on the enclosed reference letter promptly (see attached glowing recommendation letter)." Lawyers frickin love writing nasty letters. It's pretty much the best thing they do.

Also don't forget that because you have been let go you are now probably entitled to unemployment.

Filing for unemployment, and getting some cheap legal service should not be too much work (especially as you now have more free time, natch). Treat yourself to all the legal protections and compensation you deserve, while focusing on the future job that you want. Lawyers are paid to deal with and think about this stuff so that you don't have to, and can instead focus on moving forward.

What can you do in the future? Keep more separation between work and personal life. It's not always easy to do (especially at a small company), but if this happened to me, that would be the lesson I learned.
posted by Phredward at 12:52 PM on July 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Do you have a contract? If so, does it say anything about you not being an "at-will" employee?

If not, it looks like you were employed at-will, which means that you can be fired for any reason at all as along as it is not illegal. It is generally only illegal to fire people for being whistleblowers, which you are not, or members of a protected class, which does not seems to be the problem here.

IANAL, but I would not get too excited about bringing and/or winning a suit if I were you.

TINLA.
posted by Aizkolari at 12:53 PM on July 18, 2011


To be honest, I just can't handle that sort of thing and I want to focus on what I can do for myself now. I'm sorry, he was what I considered to be first and foremost my employer but also a friend. It's been a few weeks from termination and I'm still reeling about this stuff.

I fear that you'll be reeling again when you've worked through the personal
stuff and are ready to get back on track with your career. However you may feel right now about your sobriety, the issue with the files, whatever, none of that disqualifies your status as a competent professional.

I'll leave the legalities to your lawyer, but your former friend/boss sounds like he finds inappropriate ways to exercise power and control to cope with his own emotional issues. Don't let this jerk be the one to tell you who you are.
posted by desuetude at 12:54 PM on July 18, 2011


Melismata, I promise you he said those things to me. He also called my mother who I listed as an emergency contacted and informed her of possible lawsuit and charges against her daughter (me).

I have a voicemail from him to prove these threats, which the lawyer I spoke to suggested I save.

Not trying to jump down your throat, but he did scream theses things at me and I did not incorrectly understand them. Thanks for your feedback, though.
posted by somersault at 12:57 PM on July 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


No problem. Good for you for saving the voice mails.

Your original question seems to be "how do I move on?" and my answer now is if the boss is that nutty, keep remembering to yourself, over and over, that what he said to you was all about him, not you.
posted by Melismata at 1:00 PM on July 18, 2011


Please don't punish yourself by thinking you deserved the way your boss treated you. Your relapse, while understandably distressing to you, did not affect your performance at work--as your boss himself admitted. I bet your termination has more to do with your boss's own issues than yours. Those voicemails are incredibly unprofessional to say the least.

It sounds like you've received some good legal advice but are worried that following it will somehow be, in your own words, "passive-aggressive or sneaky." It's not. Looking after your own best interests is important. You have pursued sobriety because you feel it's healthier for you. So, it makes sense you would do other things to look after yourself too. One of those things is to get good legal advice and follow it.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:13 PM on July 18, 2011


If you've found a lawyer that will take your case, hey, go nuts, but... it doesn't sound to me like you've got a case.

Minnesota is an at-will employment state. So all the advice upthread about suing this guy? Not necessarily well-founded. I'm not an employment lawyer, and not licensed in Minnesota. But I am a lawyer, and I'm not seeing much here. Being an asshole is not generally an actionable tort, and being an asshole what appears to be an otherwise-legal termination doesn't turn that into one either. So let me add some counterpoint to those saying that you should sue the guy. Definitely consider all your legal options, but don't be surprised if they aren't as wide as you've been led to believe. Litigation is not the answer to everything.

That said, the letter isn't a terrible idea, if you can afford it. You'll be looking for new employment, and potential employers frequently call former employers for references. These days, fears of defamation have generally led to former employers confirming dates of employment and nothing else. I think your boss might do with a little fear of a defamation claim at this point, and a letter from an attorney might be just the thing to instill that.

Other than that? Stay on the wagon, keep your head down, and find yourself another job. You want a win here? Prove the bastard wrong.
posted by valkyryn at 1:32 PM on July 18, 2011


Alcoholism is a disability, by the way, and protected by the ADA. Since your boss knew you were in recovery, he was aware of your alcoholism, and actually fired you for it.

Here's the ADA's FAQ on alcoholism and your protection under the law:
http://www.ada.gov/q&aeng02.htm (It's almost halfway down the page, under "Q. Are alcoholics covered by the ADA?")

Here's some questions specifically about alcoholism and the ADA:
http://www.usccr.gov/pubs/ada/ch4.htm ("WHEN ARE ALCOHOL USERS COVERED UNDER THE ADA?," near the top.)

At-will state or not, you've got a good case. Your boss shot himself in the foot by giving you a reason why he fired you. Talk to an employment lawyer. You deserve to stick up for yourself. It's good for your self-esteem, your sobriety, and your recovery. Do it.

IANAL, but I do have graduate-level HR law classes under my belt. YMMV.
posted by juniperesque at 1:56 PM on July 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


The letter sounds like a good idea after the threats. It's not passive aggressive. You're defending yourself against someone who is behaving in an abusive way towards you. That is your right.

You got a lawyer, and I suggest listening to your lawyer. Suing for wrongful termination might be a bit much, time and effort wise, but the letter sounds pretty easy.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:05 PM on July 18, 2011


Too many assholes treat too many good people awfully, and those good people never get justice.

I strongly urge you to seek justice, because you have the power to. Think of all those in worse situations who are not as lucky as you.
posted by ejfox at 3:55 PM on July 18, 2011


Being sober doesn't make someone a good person, a nice person or not an asshole. Your boss sounds like an asshole. People in recovery tend to idolize people who have been in recovery for longer than they have; often times, this is a mistake. Half of people with addictions have another mental illness and many of them have personality disorders as well. Contrary to popular belief, being in a recovery program does not cure "dry drunk" (it's debatable as to whether such a thing exists, but if it does, it seems to bear little relationship to recovery program attendance rates).

Unfortunately, the people who tend to stick around recovery programs the longest and attend most frequently can be just as bad as those who constantly relapse in terms of mental health. (The healthiest ones seem to attend for a few years and then move on, "checking in" occasionally if needed).

In terms of your employment situation, all you need to explain is that you worked at X place and you left. Lots of people leave jobs on bad terms with their bosses for a zillion different reasons and employers recognize that this is not always the employee's fault. Don't feel the need to explain the recovery piece unless you are seeking to work at a rehab. In that case, explain that you slipped and have moved on.
posted by Maias at 4:27 PM on July 18, 2011


Your instincts are correct. Litigation can be emotionally draining and lengthy, even when it settles. Also, it looks like some important evidence might be your word against his. Just because someone admits something doesn't mean you can prove they admitted something. I don't know how the lawyer explained things to you or whether it was just a free consult but if they were at all pushing you towards legal action that you were hesitant about I would, personally, get another lawyer. Also, the fact that you are still upset and asking some of this stuff on mefi indicates the lawyer you saw didn't do an awesome job of explaining to you how the law in this area works (maybe they don't know!). Whether a strongly worded letter, or demanding a positive reference letter through a lawyer, is worthwhile depends on so many factors that are not in the facts and best analyzed by someone with specific, successful, experience in employment law in your jurisdiction.

Anways, to move on and clear your head, maybe think of this as a perverse blessing. Your employer's reactions suggest your relationship, and probably the working environment generally, wasn't too healthy. Look at this as an opportunity to move on.

Don't write stuff off as above your experience, seek an objective opinion from a career counsellor or employment agency if necessary. In fact, if you are educated and have experience in another field, you may be overlooked for lower skilled jobs - they assume you'd rather work elsewhere and will leave.

FWIW, a friend of mine had a similar experience with an abusive and threatening employer. He thought he would never work in his town or industry again and was losing sleep over the potentially bad reference (they had actually threatened him with a bad reference on his leaving). He applied at another company and, lo and behold, the management at his new office was completely familiar with the dysfunction at his old company and no one ever questioned why he would leave it. I think there are probably more stories like this out there than vindictive-ex-employer-ruining-lives stories.
posted by skermunkil at 4:32 PM on July 18, 2011


Yeah, but he threatened to sue me for the misplaced work files which I returned literally two hours later. And luckily avoided any lawsuit. When he called, he threatened to sue and press charges.

Luckily avoided what lawsuit, the one that he would be able to drum up in a couple of hours, on what basis? What crime did you commit for which he would be able to press charges?

Why don't you ask your lawyer to explain what's involved in bringing charges of unlawful termination? Try not to react or make a decision on the spot, just get a nice, boring, objective set of steps. Look at those steps and think about what you'd advise a friend to do. Maybe you'll still decide it's not worth it, that's totally fine, but at least give the idea a good fair shake. At-will does not actually mean that the guy has carte blanche.
posted by desuetude at 5:37 PM on July 18, 2011


Btw, I'm thinking of just pursuing retail jobs for now so nothing too overly ambitious... or is this even way above my abilities/work experience at this point?

You're feeling down and disappointed, but you need to believe this: Your former boss is a nut job, and you are really lucky that he showed you just how nutty he is. Your not-drinking had a small setback but he went completely off the rails.

No, retail is not overly ambitious. It may be difficult to find work with the unemployment figures still high, but that's not a reflection of you -- that's just the economy. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get out there and find a job that was better than the last one (that would be any job, by the sound of it).

You have nothing to be ashamed of, by the way.
posted by Houstonian at 6:00 PM on July 18, 2011


I think you move on by standing up for yourself. Part of recovery is learning how to do that. You may decide to go the lawyer route or not. But just because you relasped does not mean you were or are incapable of performing your job, unless you were a substance abuse counselor. Then it might be a problem. Your boss has mingled your personal and professional relationship in a very un-recovery/unprofessional manner. He also slipped up.
posted by cairnoflore at 6:52 PM on July 18, 2011


Sometimes when someone has behaved very badly to you, they will aggressively attack you, to keep you off balance and to protect themselves from any feelings of guilt.

This business about suing you for misplaced work files is exactly that kind of bullshit. You made a mistake. People make mistakes. You corrected it.

This is all meant to distract you from the fact that you have been wronged. Your boss has fired you for a disability protected by the ADA. Even if it weren't illegal, it would be grossly unfair.

Stop feeling guilty about your honest mistake. Stop feeling afraid that you're going to be sued. You are the potential suer, not the potential suee.

As has been referenced above, pursuing a wrongful termination lawsuit is time-consuming and expensive. That doesn't change the fact that you have the legal upper hand. All you want, so far as I can tell, is an honest reference. Your lawyer should be able to craft a letter which appropriately indicates that you will not stand for defamatory statements. You may not had direct evidence of wrongful termination, but you have evidence of your boss making horrible remarks.

TL:DR. You are being gaslighted. You have the upper hand, not your former boss. You have evidence of harassment, and you could choose to sue his ass, not the other way around. Talk to your lawyer. And I totally agree with the above -- that putting it behind you and standing up for yourself are congruent, not exclusive.
posted by endless_forms at 8:43 AM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


your claim might actually be discrimination under the minnesota human rights act or the ada (now the adaaa) for discrimination on the basis of a perceived disability -- talk to your lawyer about that idea

you could also check with the EEOC or Minn. Dept. of Human RIghts to see if they think you have a claim that you could pursue administratively.
posted by wurly at 10:13 PM on July 19, 2011


My relapse never affected my work performance, responsibilities or ability to show up (my boss even conceded this when I was terminated). The reason why I was terminated was because it was a small firm and he thought it would be unhealthy for everyone else to be around me during my struggles.

This suggests your termination was ENTIRELY personal on his part.

Agreed with everyone above who is advising you to stop feeling guilty and to stand up for yourself.

If your boss called another employee off hours and that person was drunk, would that person be fired? No, because drinking is not illegal. He is discriminating against you because he knew you were in recovery and he was personally upset about your relapse. This has nothing to do with your job at all. And your personal situation is really none of his business. Your drinking or not drinking has no bearing on your job if you were not drinking while working! The only mistake you made professionally was answering the phone.

I am not a lawyer, but I believe women are a protected class at work - and I believe you are female. Just another possible reason to feel justified in your pursuit of resolution. A good lawyer will help you stay out of a long expensive lawsuit if that's what you want (I agree that is sensible). BUT knowing you have the legal upper hand as endless_forms states will help you mentally deal with this.

Good luck!!!!
posted by rainydayfilms at 10:17 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


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