"You can't fire me, I quit!"
January 21, 2010 11:54 AM   Subscribe

I think I might get fired soon. Should I quit so that I don't have that black mark on my resume?

I work for a tiny company, where my boss is the owner. Lately (for various reasons I won't go into) I have been concerned that my boss may be gearing up to fire me or otherwise let me go (is there a difference? This is in California, which is an at-will state.) Given the particulars of the company, if this happens, it would not be under the guise of financial reasons or company restructuring; if any reason is given, I imagine it would relate to me personally or my perceived performance in or happiness at the job. Also, while I do not feel that I have been particularly negligent, I am not entirely certain I would get unemployment if I were fired; I think they could scrape up reasons that I should be denied.

What is the best way for me to proceed, other than updating my resume and looking for new jobs? A friend told me I should ask if they are planning to fire me (perhaps phrased as "I'm concerned about my job security"), but I can't see that going well, and I also don't think I could trust a "no, we are not" because I imagine it would be to the boss's advantage to lie. Should I ask? If so, how?

Is it better for me to quit than to be fired? Is quitting preemptively when I don't know I can find another job a really bad idea? I'm in my 20s and this the most solid job I've had so far, so I imagine that being fired would really screw up my employment history. I could/would quit with the legitimate explanation that I want to do some traveling (which I would then do). I imagine leaving a (sort of skilled but with lots of secretarial work) job to do some traveling won't seem horribly flaky.

I haven't been happy at the job lately, but I also feel that I am unlikely to find something else given the current economy. I have enough savings to keep myself fed and housed for about a year if I live really frugally and don't open the IRA I was planning to this year.

In the past when I haven't been working I have tended to spiral into depression and unproductivity--obviously not good. But I'm not sure how these things compare to (potentially) having the black mark of having been fired, when looking for a new job.

Throwaway email: anonymous2671@gmail.com, though I may register a new account to comment - so feel free to ask me things if it will help you give me a better answer.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you're fired, you can apply, perhaps be denied, appeal, and perhaps be denied again.

If you quit, you assuredly will not get unemployment.

Start looking now anyway. Unhappiness is reason enough.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 11:59 AM on January 21, 2010

Everyone who gets fired discusses it in euphemisms in interviews and it's really unlikely anyone other than you and you ex-boss will ever know the truth of how or why you left. Start job hunting and wait for your boss to make the first move.

Having been fired twice it's really not a black mark IMO.
posted by GuyZero at 12:03 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

depends if they lay you off its different then getting fired. In ny the unemployment office will call the job and ask the reason why you dont work there. So if you get laid off and leave nicely you will get unemployment.

I say wait and let them have the first move. I make sure your resume is up to date and start to look. Dont quit by yourself though.
posted by majortom1981 at 12:11 PM on January 21, 2010

Stick it out (don't quit) while looking for another job. You could also try communicating with your boss to try to set up a plan for increasing your performance (according to your boss).
posted by KokuRyu at 12:12 PM on January 21, 2010

Laid Off: Unemployment Insurance nearly guaranteed

Quit: Unemployment insurance not possible (unless you appeal it with excellent reason - such as abuse, harassment, etc., but you need some good proof)

Let Go/Fired: Same as above but a bit easier to appeal.

In any case: There is no central registry of how your employment was terminated. There is no such thing as a "black mark" on your resume, and if you are afraid of them checking up on you, just don't list the job at all on your resume.

Most situations though, the new employer will just ask you why you left the previous job. Then it's up to you to present the facts.
posted by weasel at 12:20 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

There is no stigma to being fired anymore. Like bankruptcy, it's happened to so many people now that "stigma" just doesn't apply.
Don't quit. Let them fire you, if that's what's coming down the pike, and then file for unemployment benefits, but don't jump the gun by "firing yourself."
posted by BostonTerrier at 12:20 PM on January 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

You may be surprised at just how little you may get in California for unemployment, depending on what you're earning. In this economy I would strongly recommend keeping your paycheck for as long as possible.

It's always better to find a new job that you like, than to stay at one where you feel the sword of Damocles is hanging over your head.

I would suggest that you line up some interviews and see how they go, but stay at your current job until you have an offer.

This gives you the best of both worlds: hopefully reasonable current pay, something to look forward to, and no financial drain in the meantime.

Also, whether you're fired, laid off, or whatever, the actual separation (you decided to go, they let you go) doesn't really matter. It's how your current employer feels about you and talks about you when future employers call them to confirm that you worked there.

So I would work on patching things up at the current company, and leave on good terms when you do get something lined up.

Also, if you feel like the owner is PO-ed at you, ask them about it. Be professional and responsible. Better to talk now than never.

Good luck!
posted by zippy at 12:25 PM on January 21, 2010

If it were me, I would work there as long as they'll let you (unless you get a new job, of course.)

If they do fire you, see if you can negotiate that anyone calling to check your employment history will be supplied only with your dates of employment, title, and a nice, vague, neutral-sounding reason for your departure, like "I had to let anonymous go. No, I can't discuss our personnel decisions specifically, sorry."

Point out to your boss that despite it not working out with him/her, you're sure that he/she doesn't want to make it any harder than it already is for you to get another job.
posted by desuetude at 12:26 PM on January 21, 2010

There is no Official Register of Firing; it's not a report card.

Every item in your employment history exists in one of two states: good reference, or employment verification only. It doesn't matter if you quit or get fired, it sounds like this job will be strictly verification. Everybody's got some - maybe they didn't like you, or you fucked up and got fired, or you testified against someone, or you did/did not go out with somebody's cousin, or they took it personally that you quit and can't be relied on to be sane in future conversations.

And the rules of interviewing state you can't come right out and say "Oh my god, that place is a bad scene, I can't tell you how bad I need to get out!" But you can grimly say, "I'm not sure how much longer that job is going to be there" and leave the rest to imagination.

If you do end up with a gap in your resume, make sure you do something in that time that you can talk about later. "I left that job because I wasn't enjoying the work, and I took some time to travel/learn Spanish/do admin work for the Red Cross." (That last one, when people want to help but draw the line at pushing papers and answering phones, could very well lead to a new job, so don't rule it out.)
posted by Lyn Never at 12:29 PM on January 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

Different states have different rules. But is not true that "you don't get unemployment if you're fired." You have to get fired for misconduct or something like that.

So you should definitely wait to get fired if you need unemployment insurance -- On the other hand the best thing would be to get a new job and then quit.
posted by delmoi at 12:29 PM on January 21, 2010

I agree with weasel, get fired and apply for Unemployment. A friend of mine was fired, and while unemployment decided she wanted to go back to school. She found a special program where should could extend her employment benefits for up to 2 years if she remained a full-time student. She has since graduated and found a pretty killer job in the field she was studying.

If you are unhappy at your current job, this might be a blessing in disguise and could possibly open up other possibilities.

Also, as an employer who hires people, I don't hold being fired or laid off against a potential employee. Sometimes certain jobs are just not the right fit, it doesn't necessarily mean that the person is an unqualified worker.
posted by Olive Oil at 12:32 PM on January 21, 2010

"Fired for cause" is the key phrase where you can be denied unemployment- this is something serious and provable like stealing, or unexplained absence- "his work wasn't that great" isn't considered "cause."

Anecdotally, it is hard to not get unemployment in CA. I have read stories of people who literally punched their boss and still got it. Depending on how big jerks they are, your job may try to contest it, but you will most likely win.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:05 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you look at online advice to employers as to whether or not to appeal employees' Unemployment Claims, what most of them say is "unless you fired the employee for misconduct, don't bother to appeal," with examples of misconduct like drunk on the job, caught stealing and persistent absenteeism given. It is not trivial to appeal unemployment, there are forms to file and deadlines to keep and hearings someone at a higher level than you will be forced to attend and defend the employer's appeal. Appeals do seem to be on the rise in the bad economy, according to reporting I've seen, but the substantial majority of claims still go through unobstructed. Your boss doesn't make the final call: the state does.

I get the vibe that maybe you would like to get out of both the unpleasantness of being in an okay but disliked job and the uncertainty of your boss' issues with you which could be making you overrate the dubious benefits of quitting to avoid being fired. I was in a similar boat many years ago, and did decide to quit, and the impact was pretty unequivocally negative. It didn't ruin my life and I wouldn't want to give you the impression that I think deciding to quit your job under your circumstances is the first step to certain homelessness or something.

But I can say pretty much without reservation that the smarter and wiser decision would have been to stick it out, either weather the momentary situation or deal with being fired (which I judge to be pretty unlikely in the light of time and objectivity and conversations I had with people who were inside the situation subsequently), and work harder on myself and the issues that were causing both my dissatisfaction and issues with my work. I missed any chance at unemployment compensation and ended up taking close to a 30% pay cut in my next job, and in the end I think that if I really had continued to find the work uncongenial there was a good chance I could have gotten my act together and left the job much more on my own terms in a year or two.

It's easy to be smart later and this is easier advice to give than to take. But if you want the really objectively smarter answer it is probably to stick it out and work on a less stress- and fear- driven exodus in the future, or else deal with the termination and take the reasonable odds on getting unemployment.
posted by nanojath at 1:17 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

OP here. Thanks everyone. Some additional stuff:
-definitely planning to look for a new job- obviously leaving for something new would be the best situation here.
-can anyone elaborate some more on the nuances between being fired or let go vs" laid off, from a future employment standpoint? IS it always clear which it is? I guess I am also thinking of those "have you ever been fired" type interview/application questions. again- given the specifics here, there is no way this will be presented as budgetary or due to restructuring, which I imagine are the classic not-the-employee's fault type layoff reasons.
-It seems people are pretty solidly saying to stay, but if it matters: the job has no benefits (like health.)
-just to cover all my bases, what if I were fired for something big, like messing up in a way that cost the company $?
posted by clever anonymous username at 1:36 PM on January 21, 2010

also: if I should be fired, what kind of phrase should I use to explain how/why I am no longer there, when asked at interviews?
posted by clever anonymous username at 1:41 PM on January 21, 2010

I'm in the same place so I feel for you. I am trying to mend things so I don't have to look for another job, the golden handcuffs. Good luck!
posted by TheBones at 1:47 PM on January 21, 2010

To answer your follow-ups, if a company is interviewing you and gets to the point where they check your references, most companies who have laid you off or even fired you will only want to say that you worked from X to Y dates and earned Z to limit their liability since there have been lawsuits over this.

That said, smart HR folks are now instead asking previous employers, "Is he/she eligible for rehire?" If you parted on bad terms or were laid off for performance reasons, you can guess what the answer will be. So while it may not be clear to a prospective employer which it was, the end result is the same.

Also, the decision about whether messing up in a way that cost the company money being cause for firing and denying benefits is something that is very debatable based on the circumstances and can be brought before a review board who believe it or not, often times will rule in your favor since one could argue that any screw-up costs the company money to some extent, and if they denied benefits every time that happened there would be a bloody revolt.

My advice? Stick with it, start your job hunt NOW and do NOT quit. Unemployment compensation, while small, is helpful and for many people has been extended for several months. The stigma of being let go is gone and you can spin it in MANY different ways with little risk of being "caught." No employer expects you to say "well, I wasn't very good at my job so they let me go and now I want to work for you where I likely won't be very good either."
posted by Elminster24 at 2:02 PM on January 21, 2010

Forgot to add...here are some suggested phrases for the interview:

"There were some big organizational changes occurring due to the economy and my position was eliminated."

"Standard workforce reduction due to the wonderful economy."

Most likely the HR person will ask you in a vague way about "why are you leaving the company" to which you can respond with an equally vague:

"Based on the time I've been there, I had decided that the kind of company I really want to work for has attributes X,Y,Z (which are all things the interviewer's company offers)."

You're not exactly lying, but you're not saying anything negative about the situation either. If they press the issue and require details (which would be VERY rare and strange), be honest but stand-up for yourself.
posted by Elminster24 at 2:07 PM on January 21, 2010

-just to cover all my bases, what if I were fired for something big, like messing up in a way that cost the company $?

Then your boss should've been supervising you more carefully? Okay, that's not something you can say. Don't pass the buck at an interview, obviously.

Vague it up, say it was a "financial situation."
posted by desuetude at 2:12 PM on January 21, 2010

In a similar situation, where somebody was fired for cause, my advice for "if asked for reason why you left" was to say they were laid off.

The reason is that on a reference check, a vast number of companies anymore won't give anything other than dates of employment (for fear of a lawsuit), and on the off chance that they did indicate that the discharge was "for cause", a person can always say "that's not what they told me; they indicated I was being laid off" -- at worst, it's a he said / she said kind of thing at that point, and probably not a lot worse off than admitting it in the first place.

Whether they ever checked the previous employer or not, I don't know, but the person got the new job without any problem.

Best of luck!
posted by nonliteral at 5:03 PM on January 21, 2010

Is there any way you can ask for a performance review with suggestions? Can you ask to meet with your boss and then say, "I'm concerned about meeting your expectations. Could we take some time to clarify your needs?"

Whenever I don't know how I'm doing on something I ask my boss 'What are my expectations regarding ____" She tells me very specifically what she wants me to do, and I believe it increases her opinion of me as a dedicated worker.
posted by debbie_ann at 5:14 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Think about it from the employer's standpoint. "I'm concerned about my job security" doesn't play well. "How's my job performance" does. Ask to meet w/ your boss for a review. If they're unhappy w/ your work, you'll find out, and maybe have the chance to make it right. If they fire you later, you can say you did your best to understand and perform work as requested. This helps you w/ unemployment compensation.

If you are terminated w/out cause(laid off), you collect unemployment compensation.
If you are terminated with cause(fired), you appeal for unemployment compensation, but it's uncertain.

It takes some nerve to approach your boss when you feel things are shaky, but it's excellent practice for your next job, and for life. Dealing w/ difficult situations is a great skill.
posted by theora55 at 6:20 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

my spouse was in a similar situation to yours, except he actually liked his job but misread/misinterpreted the signals he was getting from his employer (small, Bay Area not-for-profit org) and up and quit (using rationale similar to yours) and his employers were frankly rather stunned by his abrupt resignation. he is a person of few regrets, however he laments this one a decade later. it took him ages to find employment again, and when he did, it was only about half-time and the loss of income led him to leave the Bay Area altogether.

echoing what many other people say here, being fired is no longer the draconian black mark it once was (really the only time it's a black mark is if you've done something criminal or unpardonable to deserve to be fired). since this is a bad economic downturn, being let go can always be finessed as a lay-off or downsizing, and as long as you keep a positive attitude about your time working there, it will not be of concern to future employers ... again, as long as you keep a positive spin about it.

i can also add another perspective from my own experience. i quit a lucrative job because I knew they were setting me up to force me out (I worked for a decade in a highly competitive, multi-million dollar industry) and was going to do the travel thing, etc. I regret nothing, usually, but in retrospect, I should have stuck it out for what would have been a severance package or a payout. I'm still happy, but I could have used that money in the end...
posted by kuppajava at 11:30 AM on January 22, 2010

« Older How to deal with this?   |   Costa Rica vacationing...another original Ask Mefi... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.