Fired at work and I now need to get back on track
February 19, 2011 11:41 AM   Subscribe

How to get my life back and remove the stigma after wrongful dismissal?

I was fired from my work a month ago. A large company that has been on the decline for decades. I have been there for a year and a half as a manager. The entire situation was flubbed from the beginning by a new cavalier manager intent on making an example of me and an inept HR rep. Many rights were violated and many strict internal company policies were not followed. The boss is a bully (To put it gently) and has driven out countless people already. My old boss loved me as does all the employees at the business. I have countless good references. They are all disgusted by what has happened. The regional HR didn't even know about this. Such is life I guess.

As you can imagine I immediately consulted with several lawyers. They are all now chomping at the bit, one even willing to take my case in a you don't pay unless you win situation. Which this particular higher profile office rarely ever does if my friends and relatives thoughts are to be trusted. I'm not stupid, I have a massive paper trail and have had one going ever since I sensed trouble months ago. I'm covered.

Needless to say I was furious but I now forgive them. What was done to me was out of malice and hate but it wasn't about my job performance or my worth as a person. They have some major personal issues and I wouldn't trade their lives for mine for one second. That doesn't mean that I will not hold them accountable for their actions. I loved working with the people there and that has been taken away from me. I have been humiliated and dragged through the mud and there are limits on how you can treat people in the real world.

My issue comes in how to explain all this to get my life back on track. I've already felt the sting in a few ways:

1. I've been denied a job that I likely would have gotten had I not been fired from this one (Despite the glowing references). I'm now hesitant in how to approach future job applications with the fact that I was fired and in the middle of a rather large lawsuit. I consider myself great at interviews, and have been told in interviews that I'm really charming and if I'd consider a more people oriented role. But, I'm at a loss as to how to spin this.

2. I am in the middle of a battle to get unemployment insurance because I was fired. I can't say if I'll get it or not.

3. It's tough getting dates when you don't have a job. I have money, it's just not desirable. I'm now taking girls out with my good friends on fun activities to show them that I'm still a smart, funny, good person, but I fell into unfortunate circumstances. It's still a tough sell I've found...

4. I have no experience in the service industry. I'm not one to sit around so I applied to jobs that would keep me busy and wouldn't require a lot of explanation about my current situation but that was not demeaning (McDonalds). Apparently so did 30,000 other university girls with experience in waitressing, bartending, etc... I have trades experience but nobody is hiring at the moment. Not even any retail jobs in the mall (At least not for men).

I am trying to network as best I can and will likely occupy my time at the gym, playing music, cooking, possibly volunteering, etc... but there is a stigma attached to being fired, no matter the reason. It's now a struggle to convince people that I am capable of doing good work, that I can be a good boyfriend, that I was fired for reasons not related to performance. I'm usually optimistic but it's really been getting to me.

I'm sure many people have been through this so any ways that you've found to get your life back together would help. I'm in my mid twenties so I know that this is likely only a bump in the road.
posted by penguinkeys to Work & Money (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You weren't fired "for cause", but you're sure acting guilty.

Re-frame this. You were laid off. For (1), don't make such a big deal about it, and ABSOLUTELY do not badmouth your previous employer or boss. For (3), again, you're acting guilty - when I met my wife, I was only sporadically employed (and she's picky). We went on a lot of cheap dates - free concerts, greasy spoons, etc which actually takes the pressure off and makes for a better dating experience.

The only stigma to "getting fired" is that which you allow to be applied.
posted by notsnot at 12:04 PM on February 19, 2011

Working at McDonalds is not demeaning. Work on your attitude and take whatever job you can get.
posted by vincele at 12:08 PM on February 19, 2011 [7 favorites]

If working for McDonald's is more demeaning than sitting around doing nothing except complaining about how unfair everything is, then you need to readjust your attitude.

1. You gloss over what the stated reason for the firing was. When the unemployment office calls your old company, what will they say the reason for termination is?

2. You say it is "a tough sell" to get girls to go out with you because you have no job. Why do they know you don't have a job? Plenty of guys without jobs go out with plenty of girls.

3. Why do you think your firing was the reason for not getting this other job? Did they say that? The market is tough right now, maybe you just didn't get the job?

4. notsnot is right: the stigma here is the one you are giving yourself.

5. What's this "rather large lawsuit"? What damages have they caused you? They have the right to fire people. If they did it for the wrong reason or through no fault of your own, then you maybe can get damages amounting to what unemployment would have been had they fired you the right way.
posted by gjc at 12:19 PM on February 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I was really unhappy with my job after having been treated badly, I discussed the possiblity of suing with a friend who is an employment lawyer (although, he usually represents the companies being sued). His main question to me was to ask myself whether it was really worth going through the emotional stress of a lawsuit. The suit can drag on for years. The lawsuit will keep you shackled to the past for an unknown amount of time. Keeping yourself wrapped up in a past wrong, can have a negative impact on your current life.

Also, in talking to my friends who have been laid off they told me that they really learned who their true friends were after losing a job. I can see where people you're thinking of dating might feel uncomfortable with you not having a job. In the short term, maybe you can focus on the positive aspects of not having a job. In a previous relationship of mine, one of my ex's and my happiest times were when he was unemployed. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but we were able to spend so much time together and get to know each other better this way. My job gave me a lot of time off, so we could take random trips and I have to admit that I was a little sad when he did find a new job and we had to give up some of our freedoms.
posted by parakeetdog at 12:20 PM on February 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

vincele: Literally the only jobs at our mall that's not an hour drive away are the two lingerie stores and a management position for the plus sized female store. Also make up counter at a department store and drugstore. Hence, jobs that only hire females.

McDonalds isn't demeaning if you are a manager or something. It is if you are a fry guy in your mid twenties working with teens that don't give a shit. I've applied for floor laying, lumberyard helper, forklift driver (I have my license) and clothes folder at the gap. I've applied at three Starbucks but they weren't hiring. I've applied as a bar helper and a waiter. Believe me, I'm not shooting for the stars here. There just isn't a lot of work right now. You could be right that it's partly because I'm in a funk right now and it's putting off employers.

notsnot: I've never been fired or have had a bad relationship with any boss in my life until now. Worst situation is that I was polite but strictly professional with co-workers if our personalities clashed. I don't really know how to deal with it I suppose.

I never had or never will badmouth any former employer unless I'm BS'ing with good friends or family at home. Certainly not in an interview or work related situation.

You are both right about the date thing though. My friends say I go after a certain type of girl, one that would care about a temporary work situation like this.
posted by penguinkeys at 12:33 PM on February 19, 2011

1. I can say the stated reason was not given. This is one of the many things that went wrong.

2. Work comes up in conversation. I know I should re-frame my answer to the what do you do question.

3. A person I know works for the company. When I talked to him after he thought I was laid off, not fired and that was the major reason. They can't outright say they won't hire you because you were fired though.

4. I agree to a large extent.

5. I don't live in the US so employees are a lot more protected here. Yes, unemployment insurance is one of the things that I will receive damages for.
posted by penguinkeys at 12:43 PM on February 19, 2011

Simply tell your next prospective employer that you gained a lot of valuable experience at your last position, but it wasn't a good fit. There are many delicate ways to step around the issue without being dishonest and yet without divulging information about a lawsuit. That would scare anybody.

Date different girls.

You might also want to keep your opinion to yourself about other types of jobs out there if you want anyone to help you. Even people who might share your view don't want to hear it, and you're not exactly in the position to talk right now.
posted by katillathehun at 12:49 PM on February 19, 2011 [5 favorites]

I'll focus on the question of how to get back on track, although I also am not sure that a lawsuit will help you do this because first and foremost, you do need to put this behind you. It's in the past, you need to leave it there. Best way to release negative vibes? Gym, gym, gym! Second best way? Use this time to improve yourself in any way you can think of. Fill your days with activities that will add to your resume, such as the volunteer work you mentioned. Take some specific classes that apply to your career, as updated training is ALWAYS helpful in a job search. If you focus on activities that move you forward in a positive manner, you will gradually lose the negative vibe. The unemployment office is a great place to get advice and information on what's available to do this. There are still tons of jobs available on Craigslist in my area, and there are so many others in your position that I don't believe taking a "menial" job now will reflect negatively on your work history in the future. One of these days, we'll all sit around and trade funny stories about how we weathered this economic crisis.

Make that your mantra: I AM MOVING FORWARD IN A POSITIVE MANNER! Seriously. Say it to yourself every morning.

As for how you spin your termination, you don't have to tell any future employer that you were fired. "It wasn't a good fit" always works, and if pressed you can say "I didn't navigate well in a heavily political office environment." Because what the hell, none of us do, and if that costs you a future job then you don't want to work there anyway.
posted by raisingsand at 1:10 PM on February 19, 2011

I think that much of this will take patience and time. I've had bad periods of unemployment and it's very stressful if you're the kind of person who loves to work and is good at your work. To some extent you have to wait it out.

You might have better luck applying at smaller places, if that's possible. Good luck.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:23 PM on February 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would volunteer somewhere temporarily (or longer) while you are looking for work. That way you can sidestep the "so, what do you do?" question when you're unemployed. "Oh, I do ____ with underprivileged kids!". Answer given.

Are you talking about getting fired to girls you want to date? It sounds like you may have a (justified) chip on your shoulder but it doesn't really make for positive conversation or a fun time.
posted by amicamentis at 1:29 PM on February 19, 2011

Hey guess what? I have dealt with this before, and for a more-complicated situation. That is, my job had been deteriorating after the addition of a new boss, I made a small mistake (and I know what constitutes firing mistakes in my line of work), which they then used to fire me. Not only that, but I had talked to everyone I knew in the preceding days, wondering about them trying to get me to quit. So, on the morning I went in early to talk to my boss about what's going on, I get an IM from a friend in another department sending his condolences on my job. Well, this was news to me, and I thanked him, and gathered up (sadly only "most of") my stuff and walked out with a smile on my face. It was around then that I got the meeting request for an hour or so later, which I ignored. I then got a voice mail around 2pm saying I had to be let go, you know, because I missed a meeting.

If I was smart I would have gone to HR about a hostile working environment or whatever that morning instead of driving home, but that's water under the bridge now. One thing possibly in your favor, depending on your state, is whether you were correctly or not designated as exempt from overtime, and how much overdue pay you have coming from those hours. Any lawyer talking to you is likely interested in pursuing low-hanging fruit like this.

So, what now? Well, I just say that I "left." I have been freelancing since leaving this job, which may be a more casual meeting environment than an interview, but it's a good opportunity to strike an authoritative but friendly tone with the interviewer or potential client. You got this story locked. My experience here was part and parcel to an acquisition about 6mos previous, so my story is that I fulfilled the transition/absorption into the new company and decided that I didn't like working at such a large company, and "left," all of which are true. My point here is to just make up a story, interviewers don't really care. Come up with something stock that you can rattle off and elaborate on as necessary, and that can be that. You'll know the real story, and we all do about our own crap, but jobs don't care about the drama. Nobody's gonna go, "well that's not how Bill Franklin said it happened."

A last word about stigma: it's all you. Erving Goffman taught us that people, in his case ex-cons, apply stigmas to themselves and change their behavior thereby. Future interviewers don't know dick about your history, so the only things they find out are what you tell them, and if you have a guilty mind or hem and haw, that's the purpose of "why did you leave?" Leave the bad old days behind and create Teh New U!. You know it's a Something so you can deal with it in advance. Watch the movie "Inception" backwards.
posted by rhizome at 1:58 PM on February 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thanks everyone for the great advice! I do have a contract that states my hours and we are pursuing overtime, which is substantial. The lawsuit is on track so there is no going back from that. Yes, it's about the money but there is a stronger social justice part to it. I want them to know that they can't treat people in the future like they did to me. There are company rules and external laws to abide by. I'm not going into the lawsuit with hate and I've accepted that I was fired and that no matter the reason, I can't get that job back with the people I loved to work with. It just hurts.

I tried to sort this out with HR months before as the situation has been getting worse for a long time (And I have been job hunting on and off since then) and was getting nowhere. The culture is one of the superior is always right.

I will use the different fit, or no longer the right fit line in the future. Brevity is good. I have been using, "I learned many things as X but I felt that I needed to move into a new direction in order to further grow and challenge myself". To not great effect.

As an addition, anytime I hand in a resume I put on a smile, keep things positive, try to focus on how I can help them and not the current situation. When talking to girls the same thing. Keep it light and fun. I'm unemployed and in a lawsuit. It eventually comes out but I don't say it like that. I usually spin it as standing up for myself and the people at the business but it has given me more free time to cook and play music. That sort of thing. Of course I could be telegraphing anger or sadness and not know it.
posted by penguinkeys at 3:28 PM on February 19, 2011

Oh and the gym answer is great but I was injured at work and have to wait a bit before I can go back. I say I will go to the gym in the OP because they have a great meditation room that is great. I'm also downing vit. D and fish oil, eating a ton more veggies, restricting simple carbs and non monosaturated fats; whatever I can to naturally boost my mood.

I was also recommended by my doctor to read Feeling Good. Starting that tonight so hopefully I'll learn to adjust my thinking to a more healthy one.
posted by penguinkeys at 3:39 PM on February 19, 2011

I don't have advice for the main question you are asking, but is it possible that McD's etc are not considering you because you are overqualified? I had huge problems trying to get a fast food or retail job during my undergraduate degree, because managers saw me as overqualified and likely to leave pretty soon after they invested in training me.

Maybe you need to aim a little higher than what are are right now. Have you tried temp agencies? You can say you were laid off your previous job, but no need to mention the lawsuit. I'm sure they aren't going to straight out ask: "Are you suing your former employer?"
posted by lollusc at 4:52 PM on February 19, 2011

My best advice would be to find a job as quickly as possible as you can move much more quickly laterally into another position if you're holding something down. Especially since you're going forward with the lawsuit, if you don't have a regular job you might start investing quite heavily in the lawsuit (and the past). If you have a job then you can let the lawyers worry about the lawsuit and just give you updates.

I know you've mentioned you've tried looking for a job, but if I were in your position I would totally take the job at McDonald's in the short term. You could be manager there within 6 months and get an office position at a branch. I know it may feel demeaning now, but it'll probably also be a cinch of a job to do and there's nothing like an honest day's work! Who knows, you may make some great connections.

"Hey Bob, what are you doing working at McDonald's? I thought you were at..."
"Yeah, I got laid off unfortunately."
Friend/acquaintance thinks to himself:
Hmmm, Bob sure has a good work ethic. We should pick him up for x, y, z.

Just a thought.
posted by fantasticninety at 5:10 PM on February 19, 2011

Certified SPHR with lots of experience, including legal. Not just some douchebag internetter getting mad at you for no reason.

I was also wrongfully dismissed. There is nothing better for your self-esteem than getting a huge ass apology in the form court-ordered cash money.

That said, let me refer to some of yours and others' points:

They are all now chomping at the bit, one even willing to take my case in a you don't pay unless you win situation.

That is the ONLY lawyer you should be doing business with. Dead serious.

I've been denied a job that I likely would have gotten had I not been fired from this one (Despite the glowing references)

Tell your attorney. They will tack this on to the amount of money your old company will pay you. No joke.

2. I am in the middle of a battle to get unemployment insurance because I was fired. I can't say if I'll get it or not.

Did they say you acted with willful malice? Did they claim you tried to burn the building down? If not, then you are in the clear. My company claimed that I cost them $40,000. I disputed that in UI proceedings. They told the UI judge that the $40K was used to hire a unionbuster to undo my damage. Case dismissed, I got my UI. You really have to pretty much burn down a building not to get UI if you were fired.

It's tough getting dates when you don't have a job.

I totally disagree. But you should talk to your attorney. Some people are affected by this, and can ask the courts to compensate for it. When I broke my nose, the attorney asked me if there was any loss of sex (in a really professional manner). I realized that this is a legit practice. Take it up with your attorney.

I'm not one to sit around so I applied to jobs that would keep me busy and wouldn't require a lot of explanation about my current situation but that was not demeaning (McDonalds).

Here's the deal. Apply for jobs that are of equal/higher pay than the job you had. Jobs that you would enjoy, stick with and excel at. Don't go for lower paid jobs. The longer you go without getting the job you want...the more the company who illegally discharged you is liable for. Talk to your attorney.

It's now a struggle to convince people that I am capable of doing good work, that I can be a good boyfriend, that I was fired for reasons not related to performance.

I'm sorry, man. I can see you are having a really hard time about this. Talk to your attorney, and tell him that perhaps you need some counseling, therapy, etc. You seem really upset by this. I wouldn't be...but I can see how a reasonable person would be affected by some dumb shit in HR hurting you like that. You really need to seek professional help. And by the way...this will be on your former company's dime. They need to make you whole again.

Working at McDonalds is not demeaning. Work on your attitude and take whatever job you can get.

Some people consider working at an establishment they do not support to be demeaning. There is nothing wrong about his attitude in his fragile state, and you shouldn't be an asshole to someone who needs support.

They have the right to fire people. If they did it for the wrong reason or through no fault of your own, then you maybe can get damages amounting to what unemployment would have been had they fired you the right way.

WRONG! Internetters and their incorrect advice.

It sucks not working, and not having a goal. You probably feel like you are waiting on other people to get back to you, and you can't do anything till then. That sucks.

Get a job. By 'job', I don't mean a paid job. Do something. What I did during this time was become a full time expert in the area of wrongful terminations. This helped me make my case, present it to lawyers who I felt I could trust, get all documentation in order...and just do ANYTHING that I could to help my case. I spent months doing this...maybe not fulltime, but at least 20-30 hours per week. It all paid off in the end when I got a big ass apology in my bank account, and I realized that a company fucking me over was the best thing for me as:

1. I made more money over that period than had I been employed.
2. I learned a skillset that I would use for the rest of my life (legal research).
3. I learned to strike a life/work balance so that just in case something goes wrong at work again, I don't get hurt that bad.

Good luck, and if you need any help, feel free to PM me.
posted by hal_c_on at 5:21 PM on February 19, 2011 [8 favorites]

My friend worked in a very small professional industry. This person got into a bad situation with a senior person (not their fault, they were being seriously harassed and bullied, and then HR did not take it seriously, then people badmouthed my friend to other people in the industry). I think my friend went out on a work injury claim (psychological injury), although her employer did try to sack them.

The lawsuit took years and it was really only once it was over, that I could see my friend really move on. They didn't get anything like the amounts that had been thrown about and calculated (loss of earnings, inability to work in the industry), though it was seen as a very strong case. Now, my friend says that it would have been better just to move on - the years of pursuing the case were stressful to the point where my friend was hospitalised a number of times, it wasn't worth it.

Not sure what area of work you are in, but see if there are any office temp or government temp agencies in your area. Better money than the service and retail industry, and you might find something relevant to your work.

Also, you may find going to talk to a career psychologist/coach useful. They are good at helping to reframe things and will also be able to help you look at other ways of finding work.
posted by AnnaRat at 5:32 PM on February 19, 2011

You are hurting. What happened was unfair and that is hard to swallow. Men often define themselves by their work and one of the most difficult things for a man to deal with in our culture is unemployment. I truly understand.
Something that may encourage you is Steve Jobs 2005 speech at the Stanford graduation.
It is true that you can take the lemons that life offer and make lemonade.
Your life will get better and you will have grown as a person through this experience and be a better person for it.
My thoughts are with you.
posted by srbrunson at 6:23 PM on February 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

Can you use this time to volunteer or intern in a field you're interested in? It would help you feel purposeful and engaged and possibly lead to a new job and some great references.

Some higher-level intern/volunteer jobs that my friends have done have included the followin (and note that these all correlated with some aspect of my friends' interests or job history or aspirations): film festival or museum volunteer, small to mid-sized theatre company usher or assistant director, assistant carpenter in a private shop, working at a summer day camp, taking their pet dog to visit in a senior's home or mental hospital, interning at a local magazine or arts paper, helping a local member of government with campaign or office needs, helping with a highschool sports team, being a "big brother" to kids from under-served areas, temping at a law office, designing posters for gigs, designing personal websites.

PS, unlike other people here, I'm not hatin' on you for not wanting to work at McDonald's. If you're at all like me, you're much better off holding out for something that's actually interesting to you, or you'll just act out and shit the bed in your crappy new McJob and then feel even worse about yourself (trust me, I've done it). Find something intellectually stimulating, or at least fun.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 5:57 AM on February 20, 2011

It would help give us context to know what country you are in
posted by Blasdelb at 2:19 PM on February 20, 2011

I'm in Canada.
posted by penguinkeys at 10:09 PM on February 20, 2011

When I have been in serious need of a job, I went through the yellow pages. Any business I saw that I thought I might be qualified for, I called them and asked if they were hiring and if I might drop off a resume. Small businesses seem to be more likely to hire someone when they aren't officially hiring and the yellow pages are chock full of them. Worked at least two times for me.

I had to leave my job because of a bully. My god, my self confidence took a solid beating and I limped around like I was a total loser for a long time. It took me a couple of months to realize that I was not a complete fuckwad and that I actually kick much ass. My self-worth was really tied up in my success at work. When it wasn't coming, I slid into a serious depression.

I think you are feeling the same thing. If I were you, take a break from dating, make easy-going plans with close friends who always make you feel appreciated and comfortable. It will help you get your game back. Dating is rough and your confidence needs time to recover.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:06 PM on February 20, 2011

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