What to say at interviews re: being fired wrongfully
November 21, 2008 6:40 AM   Subscribe

Four days ago I filed a complaint with the department of labor against my current employer due to unpaid overtime. Today, I was fired. Should I disclose this to future potential employers?

When I am attempting to get a new job, should I announce to my potential employers that the reason I was (wrongfully) terminated was that I filed a complaint against my employer with the department of labor? Does this make me look like a disloyal or untrustworthy employee? If so, what should my response be when asked why I left my last job?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You should get yourself a lawyer is what you should do!
posted by Pollomacho at 7:08 AM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

You should come up with some happy talk about not being happy with the direction that company X was going, being concerned about their management strategies being in line with your career goals, blah blah blah and them much more emphasis on the wonderful future and how great it will be whoo hoo!

Network with some job seekers or see if your local library can hook you up with free career counselors who can help you with your "story."
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:21 AM on November 21, 2008

Either you were wrongfully terminated or you weren't. You can only be wrongfully terminated if you get a lawyer and win the case. Otherwise, you were properly terminated and you'll be considered just the same as everyone else who was terminated. After all, how many people really think they were properly terminated?

Essentially, you were a disloyal employee. I'm not going to argue morality here, I'm going to argue from a business pragmatic standpoint. Businesses don't care about the law when it's not profitable for them to. I'd make it as obscure as possible that you were terminated. In particular, I wouldn't put it on a resume anywhere. Most businesses don't check references until after an interview and most businesses also don't tell what the reason for termination is. So, they're either going to reject you after the interview immediately for being terminated (at all, regardless of the reason) or give you a chance to explain the reason. At that point, I'd hope you have a legal case showing lawful termination. Otherwise, I don't think I'd believe you if I were in the hiring manager's spot.
posted by saeculorum at 7:23 AM on November 21, 2008

And when I meant lawful termination, I of course meant unlawful termination.
posted by saeculorum at 7:23 AM on November 21, 2008

Either you were wrongfully terminated or you weren't. You can only be wrongfully terminated if you get a lawyer and win the case.


Don't give legal advice if you aren't a lawyer. If you are a lawyer, you know better.

Essentially, you were a disloyal employee.

Really? I'm going to argue from an normal-person pragmatic standpoint that OP's employer was dishonest. Its all a matter of perspective, really, and the perception of the person interviewing the OP, or to whom the OP tells their story.

OP - IANAL. Like Pollomacho said, get a lawyer. Now. Specifically, get a labor and employment lawyer in your area, particularly one who has experience dealing with revenge firings and has experience with Department of Labor claims in administrative proceedings as well as in federal court. And DOCUMENT EVERYTHING. I hope you've been doing that anyway, certainly at least from the time you filed your DoL complaint.

If you end up involved in litigation or administrative action against your former employer, your lawyer will likely tell you not to talk about your claim, so there's your answer right there, for the time being. After that, either your claim will be resolved in your favor or in your former employer's favor. Either way, I think the best thing to do is just tell the truth. That's what I'd want to hear if I was conducting an interview.
posted by diggerroo at 7:53 AM on November 21, 2008 [3 favorites]

For experienced employment lawyers in your area, check NELA.
posted by footnote at 8:02 AM on November 21, 2008

This exact thing happened to me more than a decade ago. My response was to explain the situation truthfully when asked, in a low-key way (a challenge when your negative feelings about the dick who fired you are running strong), but not to bring it up before then.

One thing to be aware of, re lawyering up, is that filing a civil suit will (or did in the 90s) terminate the Labor Department's investigation into your claim. That's not to say you shouldn't (it's what I did, when the investigator I was dealing with seemed unenthusiastic), just something else to consider.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:32 AM on November 21, 2008

Are you in contact with the labor department? If so, you should probably make them aware of your termination.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:56 AM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding several here. Get a lawyer, since retaliatory firings are extremely uncool in (I believe) most parts of the country. As for the interview, I'd de-emphasize the "filing a labor complaint" part, since it hints toward possible antagonism. I'm not saying you're litigious, but they may see it that way. Don't lie, just don't say, "The MAN was exploiting me and I had to take him out!!!"
posted by rhizome at 9:19 AM on November 21, 2008

I would not tell future potential employers about your legal claims against your past employer. There is zero reason to do so.

I would come up with a benign-sounding story about leaving your past employment, such as, "Oh, we parted ways when they weren't able to pay me on time," with a wry and inclusive smile to the potential employer, showing that you know *they* are reputable and not-flakey.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:55 AM on November 21, 2008 [5 favorites]

I'd avoid talking about the complaint entirely. Even if you're completely in the right and the conclusion of the dispute is that your previous employer wrongfully retaliated against you for blowing the whistle, that may send up a red flag with a prospective employer, and, if there are two equally qualified candidates, they might pick the one without any grievance history.

If they do ask about your former employer, especially if there's a pending dispute, I'd say the minimum possible, while being accurate. Something very neutral, like, "There was a dispute about unpaid overtime," and leave it at that. Your professionalism may win you points in the interview.
posted by *s at 10:19 AM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think ClaudiaCenter is on to something. There is nothing wrong with saying that you had concerns about their ability to pay you on a regular basis and if the interviewer presses for details you can say:

"While I don't want to paint them in a negative light because I enjoyed the time I spent there, I felt that it was in my best financial interest to seek work at a company that adheres to compensation agreements."

That makes you sound like a happy employee who was looking for company that is financially stable (not uncommon in this day and age) and hints that you think they are a reputable company. Good on all counts.

I agree with others on following up with a lawyer. You might be able to get a nice chunk of change out of the company that fired you which would serve them right.
posted by Elminster24 at 4:11 PM on November 21, 2008

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