Got fired on Friday… is this an option?
January 19, 2009 12:37 PM   Subscribe

I got fired on Friday after 2.5 years with the company. I’d like to apply for unemployment in my state (Minnesota) but I’m worried my employer will contest it. Can I trade knowledge that I alone have for a guarantee that they won’t?

Some facts: I was fired for passing along news of impending layoffs to a coworker who wouldn’t be finding out for another 4 hours. I send him a text message from my personal cell phone, which he happened to read aloud in front of his boss. I found out earlier than most people since my job role has had me reporting to HR for the last 3 months.

A few things in my defense: I only passed news along after a company VP told others in front of me – I felt like I wasn’t the first one to share information outside the room. While it was mentioned during the earlier announcement that things should be kept within the room, it was in the context of not saying anything to people who would be let go, and of passing along all press inquiries to a designated contact. While I have been reporting to HR for several months, it was in an ad-hoc fashion and specific HR rules regarding confidentiality were never laid out for me.

Here’s my question: There are lots of passwords, procedures, etc. that I alone have knowledge of. If my former employer asks me for this information, can I negotiate to share it only if they put it in writing that they will not contest my unemployment?

If I haven’t been clear enough, ask questions at
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (40 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
IANAL, IANYL, but this sounds an awful lot like extortion, so I would caution against it without hiring a lawyer of your own. It hasn't worked out well in the past
posted by nomisxid at 12:43 PM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Extortion does not seem like the best plan of action here.
posted by chrisamiller at 12:43 PM on January 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

Depends on your employer, but it sounds like a really, really dumb idea. (Are you planning to get that illegal contract in writing?)
posted by phoenixy at 12:46 PM on January 19, 2009

I agree with the other replies. I know someone who was fired for the same reason and had no problem getting unemployment benefits, though it's a different company and he was in a different state.
posted by iguanapolitico at 12:47 PM on January 19, 2009

I think the only way it would only work is if you did this: after describing all of the passwords and knowledge you possess, raise your pinky to the corner of your mouth, quickly glance around the room, and say, "I'll give you these passwords MILLION dollars!"

I honestly think that this would work as well as your idea - i.e., it wouldn't work.

Also, even if your little extortion plan DID work, you'd be effectively nuking all business relationships you have with this company. If you really and truly feel as though you are invaluable to the company, try to arrange a meeting in which you outline what you bring to the company, why you would like to stay on with the company, why you made the decision of texting your friend, apologize profusely, and ask for another chance with your employer.
posted by billysumday at 12:49 PM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]



Come on man.

Read what you just posted. It's news at 11 stuff, what you want to do.

I am sorry this happened to you, but...
posted by xmutex at 12:54 PM on January 19, 2009

Definitely don't do that. As someone who has had the job of reconstructing processes and procedures after "attrition", they won't care enough for it to be worth the ethical storm you'd be generating.
posted by batmonkey at 12:55 PM on January 19, 2009

So very tempting, but stay away. I don't think you'll have trouble firing. Also, if this company is at all reasonably sized, you'll have a pack of lawyers making your life miserable about 20 minutes after, uh, "negotiations".
posted by GilloD at 1:01 PM on January 19, 2009

Apply for unemployment benefits first. Ignore calls from your ex-employer until that's settled.
posted by rokusan at 1:03 PM on January 19, 2009


No, no, no.

Almost eight years ago, I was fired, DIDN'T pull some kind of power play like you're considering, and still was denied my unemployment benefits because the state employment commission talked to both of us and decided to side with them.

I played fair. You are considering not playing fair. If there is a chance that your claim for unemployment could be contested, seriously, why would you want to fuck with that chance?
posted by emelenjr at 1:04 PM on January 19, 2009

You screwed up and got fired. Why be an asshole?
posted by Maisie Jay at 1:07 PM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

You were told not to do something, you did that something anyway, and you got fired for it. There's no justification for what you did, so I wouldn't push the extortion angle - AT BEST it won't go anywhere, at worst you could be screwing up future employment if your industry/business community/town is small and word gets out.

Don't be stupid. Move on.
posted by pdb at 1:13 PM on January 19, 2009

Extortion, for sure. So wrong - ethically and legally. I actually can't beleive you're really asking this.

Also: i would bet a lot of money that you weren't really fired for what they said they fired you for. Like you said, there was too many mitigating ciricumstances around what you revealed that if you were a valuable employee they wanted to keep, they would have kept you. They were probably just waiting for a good excuse.

If you give them a few days to cool down, they might decide on their own not to bother contesting your claim for unemployment. Its a hassle for them to do, and only worth it to them if you make it worth it (by, say, threatening to extort them.)
posted by Kololo at 1:13 PM on January 19, 2009

Oh anon, don't do this. Hopefully other people will share their good advice about how to professionally approach an an employer when they are concerned that they will contest unemployment. If it ever got out that you basically threatened to withhold company information, it might be difficult for you to find another job in your field. It they threatened to sue you and it became public it would reflect badly on you. Heck if anyone ever checked references, that'd be a pickle. Because as the situation with your colleague who blabbed about your text message showed, you can't control what other people will do.

This is the kind of plan people come up with when they feel powerless and desperate- which you personally might be or might not. But perhaps it might feel better to drop the part about trying to defend your previous actions of disclosing information you shouldn't have. You made a mistake. People do all the time, and you're paying a harsh price for it (which just sucks, I can imagine). But don't compound the old mistake with this new one, particularly if you don't have to. Perhaps you could approach your HR and ask them if they are even contesting this before you flesh out this plan.

Also perhaps more mefis can share more stories like iguanapolitico's, and share what they did to secure unemployment.

Best of luck to you, anon.
posted by anitanita at 1:15 PM on January 19, 2009

I'm the head of HR. If I were your boss I'd be so pissed at you that I'd make SURE you didn't get unemployment, because you made me/my team/the company look bad during a tough situation and added drama to an already rough day. Your old boss holds all the cards, so you have to suck it up and make it right if you really want to get unemployment.

The best thing you can do is to apologize sincerely to HR head, and ask nicely if they want any of the info that you didn't have time to record properly due to the nature of your termination. Tell them that you enjoyed working with them and that you've learned an important lesson about professionalism from this mistake, one you'll be certain never to repeat again. Thank him/her for whatever work opportunities you got working with him/her, and express hope that you can work together again in the future. Don't mention applying for unemployment or that you hope it won't be contested. If they say they do want this or that thing, get it to them right away.

Then go apply for unemployment and line up plenty of personal work references, you don't want any potential new employers going through HR to get the down low on you.
posted by pomegranate at 1:16 PM on January 19, 2009 [24 favorites]

No, no, no. Really bad idea. Go ahead and file for unemployment. Perhaps do what billysumday says: try to arrange a meeting in which you outline what you bring to the company, why you would like to stay on with the company, why you made the decision of texting your friend, apologize profusely, and ask for another chance with your employer.

Even if they say no you should offer the info. you have that you know they will need, like passwords and procedures, offer it of your own free will, no strings attached.

You can hope the fact that you are being an adult, sucking it up, and doing the right thing, will perhaps mean they will perhaps not contest your unemployment filing, especially if you have generally been considered a good employee and had good reviews. Also, there may be people you worked with that you could use for a job reference, despite how you left the company. Do not burn your bridges. Think about the job hunt to come.
posted by gudrun at 1:22 PM on January 19, 2009

... and, just as I hit post, I saw pomegranate gave you *very* good advice.
posted by gudrun at 1:24 PM on January 19, 2009

No. You watch too much TV. No.
posted by desuetude at 1:25 PM on January 19, 2009

Regarding the information that they may or may not need that you possess:

They fired you. You're under no obligation to provide anything to them. It's perfectly appropriate to have a discussion with your former employer about closing out your employment in exchange for a favorable reference and an agreement that you were laid off. This may take the form of working a few additional days or writing up procedures for your replacement. Either way, it reflects positively on you to do this. You should be compensated in some way.

It's also perfectly appropriate to approach competitors and let them know you are familiar with their policies and procedures of your former employer. It is not appropriate to access your former employers computer system or to allow others to access their system.

Whatever you do, don't make threats and don't even suggest that you're going to give away the passwords. Companies (rightfully) take this seriously.
posted by electroboy at 1:28 PM on January 19, 2009

Just as a hypothetical, let's say you did get this agreement in writing, and then the company went back on its word. You're then in the unfortunate position of trying to force someone to uphold their intent to defraud the government.

It's like calling the cops because someone stole your pot -- don't even bother.
posted by 0xFCAF at 1:37 PM on January 19, 2009

Apply for unemployment. Any domain knowledge you have will eventually be requested by them, if valuable at all, and that will provide you with your only potential negotiating tool. That is, I'd take a "sux2bu" attitude until they contact you about that stuff. Passwords can be changed, btw, and if there are many procedures that you and only you know, it's likely you're the only one who will ever know and they'll just bring someone else in to establish new-but-similar procedures. You're probably not that special, maybe you are, but people tend to overvalue themselves. I've been in your shoes.
posted by rhizome at 1:44 PM on January 19, 2009

I don't know how you think this will work out in your head, but I can guarantee you here in reality-land, doing something like this will lead to very bad results for you, to say the least.

Don't compound your job loss with possible criminal charges. You've got enough hardship to deal with already.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:57 PM on January 19, 2009

Terrible idea. OTOH, if you were going to be one of the ones layed off and they fired you the same day there were about to lay you off, you might have a case there for restitution, if you're willing to go to court for it.
posted by furtive at 2:11 PM on January 19, 2009

Here's my take on it. The company instructed you not to pass on information, but did so in a way that you interpreted as "don't pass on information outside of the company."

It is possible that the company's HR department screwed up and never trained you on proper HR policy.

But I think most people would interpret "[this info stays] within the room" as "I, personally, am not allowed to say anything to anyone outside of this room." The VP who makes the announcement and lays out the ground rules can call up whomever he wants, before or after the official announcement, but any assistants, subordinates, and support staff better keep mum.

So I can see why the company would have at the very least seriously reprimanded you, and at most, would have fired you.

On employment, I say apply for it. There are several reasons for this.

First, you don't know that the company will contest it.

Second, you may have been on the layoff list already without knowing it. If so, you could argue that the company seized on a pretext to fire you, or that their instructions to you were only about talking to the public, etc.

Third, there are much better ways to negotiate with the company than "I know your passwords." You could offer to act in a contract position to help them with a smooth handoff to your replacement, for instance.

Under no circumstances, though, should you keep any proprietary information or company property - passwords, documents, computers. Your former employer feels you violated their trust, and will not look kindly to further evidence of the same. The best approach here, IMHO, is to return everything you have without a fuss and get a receipt for it.
posted by zippy at 2:17 PM on January 19, 2009

Putting aside questions of being a jerk, wrongness, whatever....

You apply for unemployment. They contest it.

So what? For that you're going to behave in an unethical manner?

You should be preparing yourself for that eventually, not figuring out ways to (indirectly or not) blackmail them.

MN law says you're ineligible when fired only in certain strict circumstances. What you're concerned about is this:

(a) Employment misconduct means any intentional, negligent, or indifferent conduct, on the job or off the job (1) that displays clearly a serious violation of the standards of behavior the employer has the right to reasonably expect of the employee, or (2) that displays clearly a substantial lack of concern for the employment.

Inefficiency, inadvertence, simple unsatisfactory conduct, a single incident that does not have a significant adverse impact on the employer, conduct an average reasonable employee would have engaged in under the circumstances, poor performance because of inability or incapacity, good faith errors in judgment if judgment was required, or absence because of illness or injury with proper notice to the employer, are not employment misconduct.

There's almost no way that your disclosure of a layoff to be announced in under 4 hours to a single individual exceeds that standard.

You're almost certain to get your unemployment. Stop pondering unethical behavior and start concentrating on getting your shit in order.
posted by phearlez at 2:20 PM on January 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

this is a horrible idea.

also, who reads text messages aloud in front of bosses? someone is lying to you.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 2:25 PM on January 19, 2009 [7 favorites]

By the way, the details in your post are enough for your employer to connect this back to you.

You may want to ask the mods to change some of the specifics or delete the post entirely.
posted by zippy at 2:54 PM on January 19, 2009

What on earth are you thinking? The company would likely bring you up on charges.


Here's my take on it. The company instructed you not to pass on information, but did so in a way that you interpreted as "don't pass on information outside of the company."

How do I reach these keeds? Listen to mister cartmanez: I misinterpreted the rules.

C'mon. Do this in a professional environment?
posted by rr at 4:08 PM on January 19, 2009

It's also perfectly appropriate to approach competitors and let them know you are familiar with their policies and procedures of your former employer.

This is a great way to convey to an HR rep at a potential employer that you're a bitter ex-employee who is probably ethically challenged. You'd be better served by selling yourself on your education, skills and experience.
posted by contrariwise at 4:11 PM on January 19, 2009

also, who reads text messages aloud in front of bosses? someone is lying to you.

Ohh yeah. Seconded.
posted by desuetude at 5:20 PM on January 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

If I found out that you were the person who asked this question, I wouldn't hire you.
posted by flabdablet at 5:22 PM on January 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

Wow...oh wow. Do you even realize how remarkably unprofessional this sounds? You made a bad, bad decision (as much as you justify it in retrospect) and you want to compound that by an order of magnitude by attempting to extort your employer by withholding valuable procedural knowledge that can only be replaced at significant cost? I really think that being denied unemployment benefits would be the least of your worries if you moved forward on this. If I were you (literally, if I was in your position, I'm not giving advice) I would be afraid of ending up on the wrong side of a lawsuit. Wanna add attorney fees into the mix? I usually hate the phrase "man up" and do the right thing for all sorts of reasons, but it really seems to fit here.
posted by mrmojoflying at 6:43 PM on January 19, 2009

Wow, I don't have an answer to this question but I'm shocked to learn that in the USA you're only entitled to Unemployment benefits if you're fired for reasons that aren't your own fault. In Canada, a small portion of each of our paycheques is put into a kitty called Employment Insurance (EI). When you become unemployed, the money is paid back to you each week as if you're receiving a paycheque (the amount you're entitled to depends how long you've been employed, how much you earned, and a few other factors). That's an oversimplification along similar lines to saying our healthcare is "free", but essentially that's how it works.

I'm stunned to find out that the USA kicks someone when they're down. You're unemployed--who cares why--wtf are you supposed to do until you find another job?
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 7:52 PM on January 19, 2009

There are lots of passwords, procedures, etc. that I alone have knowledge of. If my former employer asks me for this information, can I negotiate to share it only if they put it in writing that they will not contest my unemployment?

It would be more convenient to have these procedures and passwords, but they'll muddle through without you -- consider that someone else was doing your job before you were. Two-and-a-half years may seem like a long time to you, but it's not really long enough for the kind of institutional knowledge that would be a bargaining chip.
posted by desuetude at 8:10 PM on January 19, 2009

You Should See the Other Guy: that actually isn't the case in Ontario (don't know about the other provinces.) You only get EI if you are let go for reasons that aren't your own fault (so, getting fired for poor performance/unethical behaviour = no employment insurance; getting fired because you've been downsized or reorganised out = yes, employment insurance.) On a practical level, unless your former employer hates you, they're usually fine with filling out the form saying you should get EI. (For example, they'll let you go for 'wrong fit' rather than 'poor performance', just to not, as you say, kick you when you're down. But technically, they're twisting the intent of the law in order to be nice. Now that's Canadian!)
posted by Kololo at 8:39 PM on January 19, 2009

Chiming in here. No. You don't do this. It is extortion and will come back to bite you in the ass.

Regarding the action that got you canned, here's the deal. The only people who should ever be telling someone they're getting fired/laid off is the person or persons whose job it is to tell that someone. Placing yourself into that equation uninvited is always a Career Limiting Move (CLM), regardless of why you did it. If you didn't know that person all that well and mentioned it in passing, HR will think you're an idiot. If that person was a friend of yours, now you're showing a disloyal streak. No matter how you slice it, nothing good can come from you telling someone before their official notice.
posted by barc0001 at 1:49 AM on January 20, 2009

Just to clarify for You Should See the Other Guy: To build on Kololo's explanation, this is often termed a "constructive quit," meaning that you didn't actually resign, but instead made - by your own actions - your continued employment untenable. You can't simply waltz out the door, quit your job and then go collect unemployment because you're tired of working, since that's bad policy and undermines the whole employment insurance structure. This simply applies those same rules to situations when your employer showed you the door to waltz through because of your behavior or performance.
posted by greekphilosophy at 1:55 PM on January 20, 2009

Amendment: constructive quits are a bit more tricky than I just made them out to be. Anyway, here's a link for those of you fascinated by the world of employment insurance law. Oooh, aaahh.
posted by greekphilosophy at 1:59 PM on January 20, 2009

I've actually seen a guy lead away from his workplace in handcuffs for pulling something very close to what you're proposing.
posted by centerweight at 9:00 PM on January 21, 2009

There are lots of passwords, procedures, etc. that I alone have knowledge of. If my former employer asks me for this information, can I negotiate to share it only if they put it in writing that they will not contest my unemployment?

This is very clearly not extortion. If your company asks you to provide information or do additional work after firing you, you are well within your rights to negotiate or refuse to give it to them. You of course have to return any company property.

What is extortion is saying "Give me money/agree to not contest my unemployment or I will sell these passwords/share this trade secret".
posted by electroboy at 10:20 AM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

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