I am getting fired. Help my life not fall apart around me.
August 15, 2012 8:08 PM   Subscribe

I know that I am going to be fired. I do not know how to proceed.

This is anonymous and vague for what should be fairly obvious reasons.

Briefly: I was forwarded secondhand info from somebody I trust that says I am going to be fired. It is utterly unambiguous. I don't know when, though assume sooner rather than later. Let's say by August 24.

Relevant details:

- I live in NYC.
- Broke-ass-broke countdown: My rent is currently $700/month before utilities ($50), and I have about $6,000 in my checking account plus $5,000 in emergency savings.
- Company type: Startup. HR: not really. Complicating noncompete situation: yes.
- I have freelance clients, both one-time and ongoing. Freelancing full-time is theoretically possible but scares the Lovecraftian creature-comfort shit out of me.
- I don't know whether they know I know. It is likely.

What do I do? Do I resign immediately for reputation purposes, or do I let them fire me for unemployment-benefit purposes? How should I comport myself? I have already asked people in my field I trust for advice. I have read previous questions on the matter.

Throwaway email: mylifeisagameofhotpotato@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (39 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
…do I let them fire me for unemployment-benefit purposes?

most states do not provide unemployment benefits to ppl who have been fired.
posted by violetk at 8:10 PM on August 15, 2012

do I let them fire me for unemployment-benefit purposes?

That's certainly the way I would go!! I assume NY unemployment benefits are as much or more than in CA, and CA pays up to about $450/week. So more than enough to cover rent and food whilst you job hunt.

I wouldn't worry about "reputation" unless you're being fired for stealing or something like that. I've been laid off multiple times and I still get work. It happens to everyone who works, almost literally.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:11 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

most states do not provide unemployment benefits to ppl who have been fired.

I suppose what violetk means by this is "fired for cause," which is for something MAJOR such as stealing, like I mentioned above. And even in those cases, the burden is on the employer to dispute the claim. But if you're just being let go for generic reasons like "we're unhappy with your work," you are ABSOLUTELY eligibly- in fact that's exactly what unemployment is for.

Since this is happening at a slow pace and not RIGHT NOW, I'm assuming you are indeed being laid off, and are just using "fired" as a synonym.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:14 PM on August 15, 2012 [15 favorites]

I'd go so far as to say the fact that this is being premeditated by them is actually EVIDENCE that you are being laid off, not fired for cause. If someone commits an offense that merits firing for cause, like stealing or assaulting a co-worker, you fire them THAT DAY, not weeks later.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:16 PM on August 15, 2012 [6 favorites]

Resignation means you can't get unemployment benefits. So does being fired for cause; but you at least have a chance. They might miss the deadline or decide not to fight it. If by "fired" you mean something closer to "laid off", then you may qualify for benefits.

It's no mystery what you should be doing now: spending all your free time look for another job.
posted by spaltavian at 8:17 PM on August 15, 2012 [10 favorites]

Can you ask your boss for a meeting, see what the story is (it's vague here, but is it for cause or incompetence or some other reason) and possibly save your job? If you know unambiguously that this is coming, why not get proactive and say, "I have been told that I'm being let go...is there anything at all I can do to change this?"

The worst thing you would do by doing this is hasten the inevitable, right?
posted by xingcat at 8:17 PM on August 15, 2012

Are you eligible for unemployment? It's not a lot, but it should cover your rent at least. I think the upper limit is ~$400 a week.

Re eligibility -- if you are fired, you are probably not eligible. I.e. you were let go for negligent behavior or something you did wrong.

If you are being downsized, or made obsolete, or your position with the company has run its course and you're no longer needed, you are most likely eligible and should at least look into it.
posted by Sara C. at 8:18 PM on August 15, 2012

As drjimmy says, there's a biiig difference between "fired" the way normal people think of it and "fired" the way the people at Unemployment think of it. On the other hand, there is no difference between our and their definitions of "resign". Make them do it.
posted by Etrigan at 8:18 PM on August 15, 2012 [21 favorites]

I wouldn't want a firing on my record, personally.
posted by radioamy at 8:29 PM on August 15, 2012

The worst thing you would do by doing this is hasten the inevitable, right?

Since money is an issue, that is actually a pretty bad outcome. You don't know when or if for certain.

OP: if they're a small startup, just start looking for work and be ready to ignore their noncompete, they likely can't afford to enforce it.
posted by mhoye at 8:30 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

No one's said this so far, but even though you feel sure that you're going to be let go, it's important to still put in your full effort
(1) out of a sense of professionalism because you're being paid,
(2) even if you are let go, these people may be able to help you down the line (if a contract comes up that they don't want, or someone in the industry is hiring and asks them to refer someone, or they're providing a reference, or because you end up working with some of these people again), and
(3) you might not be let go after all.

If you can, try to leave them with a good impression of you.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 8:30 PM on August 15, 2012 [9 favorites]

Are you being fired or laid off? It seems rather strange for them to wait a couple of weeks to boot your ass out the door.

You're being laid off. Maybe. Just do your job, and get ready to swing to the next vine. I've done it. So can you.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:31 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

The good news is that you have 11k in savings, which is 12 k more than most of us have. Your rent is not that bad.

Wait for them to terminate you. It's not the end of the world.

After you are let go, call any credit companies and student loans and start negotiating.

You are in a pretty good place, don't panic.
posted by roboton666 at 8:32 PM on August 15, 2012 [17 favorites]

my record

Is this, like, actually a thing?

I mean, I get that it's a small world, word gets around, and obviously that company's not going to be useful as a reference.

But are there actually Permanent Records one needs to worry about with this stuff? I work outside the corporate world, and in my field being "let go" is all part of the usual song and dance (I have literally not known whether my job would still exist the following day). Being all-out fired, even, is probably less unheard-of than in most industries. So maybe this is all just way more casual for me.

But really? Permanent Record?

OP, unless you embezzled money or were caught freebasing crack in the bathroom, I wouldn't make concerns about "your record" a priority right now.
posted by Sara C. at 8:35 PM on August 15, 2012 [15 favorites]

The worst thing you would do by doing this is hasten the inevitable, right?

Since money is an issue, that is actually a pretty bad outcome. You don't know when or if for certain.
Rent + utilities = $750/month, with $11,000 in savings? I didn't read that as a necessarily dire money situation. And since the question was basically "Resign, or they'll let me go in a couple of weeks," an extra paycheck isn't going to significantly improve this situation.
posted by xingcat at 8:36 PM on August 15, 2012

Honestly, I've known a bunch of people who were fired (one of them even in New York), not for stealing, etc., but for not being great at their jobs, and they were all able to collect unemployment. You should wait for them to let you go, and then file for unemployment the same day. You've got savings, you'll be fine. Start looking for work now. Work your freelance connections. Maybe one of them can grow into a job. And don't worry overly about the non-compete. As far as comporting yourself, just try to act as you normally would.

Hang in there, you'll be ok. It happens to all of us.
posted by clone boulevard at 8:40 PM on August 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

Stay and collect your paycheck, then apply for unemployment.

How specific is your non-compete clause? Does it apply if you're fired? Is it geographically limited? Non-competes are a tricky area. A lawyer can give you some advice here - try the local law schools or legal aid.

Here's your to do list:
- Start bringing your stuff home (like a briefcase full every day). If you get laid off, you don't want to spend the day packing your office and dealing with pity visits.
- Clean all personal materials from your files (paper and electronic)
- Organize your work so that you can leave with your head held high.
posted by 26.2 at 8:45 PM on August 15, 2012 [9 favorites]

Assuming you are indeed about to be laid off, and not fired for cause:
*Maintain full professionalism to the bitter end: after all, you'll want to get references from these people! (And this early warning will actually help you go out with more dignity than you probably would've managed without the heads-up.)
*Polish up your resume, and start job hunting now.
*Make sure to tell prospective new employers you were 'laid off' or there was a 'reduction in force' --- do not use the term 'fired', because they'll just assume it's short for 'fired for cause'.
*Start researching the New York unemployment benefits laws and requirements now, so you can have the shortest possible time between your final paycheck and your first unemployment check.
posted by easily confused at 8:47 PM on August 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

Do not resign, for all of the unemployment insurance-related reasons detailed above. Do consult an attorney to determine whether and to what degree your non-compete agreement may be unenforceable. Many courts frown on such agreements, and you may have more rights thank you think.
posted by decathecting at 8:52 PM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

I was in almost exactly this situation this past winter. Here's what I did:

Upon it becoming clear that I was facing losing my job I hunkered down and made sure I didn't have any major expenditures.

I documented everything. Emails that made it clear that I was doing everything (and more) than was being asked of me just in case they claimed I was being let go for cause.

I made discreet inquiries with other folks in my field to see about lining something up.

On the day I was "let go" I made sure that my boss was clear in what he was saying and said that my position no longer existed and that this would be in my termination letter.

When he made me a severance package I negotiated and got roughly double the original offer. This meant that I wasn't eligible for unemployment for a few months. That helped a lot.

Be sure to send yourself all documentation (including that email you were forwarded) to a personal email account. Document everything they say to you. Don't sign anything without serious consideration. They can't make you sign anything. You can tell them that you'll review it with an attorney - even if you don't have one that puts them on notice that they need to mind their Ps and Qs. And it gives you time to review the documents.

Bottom line - I wouldn't have changed a thing and I had to endure the "when will the hammer fall" drama for MONTHS! I'm glad I stuck it out.

Feel free to memail me if you want to discuss fine points!
posted by FlamingBore at 8:53 PM on August 15, 2012 [28 favorites]

OP, if you want advice about filing for unemployment in New York, feel free to memail me. I do it at least once every couple years and know all the tricks.
posted by Sara C. at 8:53 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

That's certainly the way I would go!! I assume NY unemployment benefits are as much or more than in CA, and CA pays up to about $450/week.

Alas, no: The current maximum weekly benefit rate is $405.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:56 PM on August 15, 2012

Do not resign.

If they actually do talk about firing you "for cause," I would suggest telling them that this will all go easier for them as well as you if they reframe it as a layoff. That way neither of you has to get lawyers involved.

Do not resign. You have nothing to gain by resigning--if these people are going to fire you, they are already unusable as a positive reference, so what advantage do you gain by resigning to save face?

There is no "record" that says "fired" on it or "resigned" on it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:07 PM on August 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

Seriously, here's what you say to your next set of potential employers if your current employers fire you: "After I left DoucheCo, I had the opportunity to work for [freelance client], who'll be glad to talk with you about our work."

If they ask "Why did you leave DoucheCo?" you say "I think DoucheCo does some great work, but it wasn't the best fit for me."

You know, the same stuff you would have said if you resigned. You aren't going to get any brownie points from them or from future employers by falling on your own sword.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:13 PM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

What do I do?

Do your job while preemptively starting a job search.

Do I resign immediately ... or do I let them fire me ...?

The latter.

How should I comport myself?

posted by John Cohen at 9:23 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Even assuming $750 of other monthly expenses (in addition to the rent + utilities you quoted) you'll have about 7 months of savings to burn through before you have to worry about access to credit and going into debt for living expenses. Obviously you don't want to wipe out your life savings, but this is just to point out that you are in a much stronger position than many people who face this situation.

You should start looking for work immediately, but keep in mind that you have a very real buffer between comfortably employed and totally broke. Remember this and you'll give off a stronger and more confident vibe in your search for new work.
posted by reeddavid at 10:05 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

So once upon a time, I changed roles in a company and was saddled with a mentor who did nothing for me, and despite my efforts I was pretty much left to languish. I was not happy, but I tried to fill the role without the support I needed to do it effectively, and felt I was doing a bad job.

Then one day, a company founder visited to tell us about the new employee ranking system. It involved columns and rows, and different quadrants meant different things. I was fairly certain that I would be in the "let him go" quadrant if judged against the criteria, so I raised my hand and asked if I could find out my current position in the grid.

A few weeks later, I got my meeting, with that founder directly, and after listening to my summary of the situation he basically said that my boss (aka the mentor who ignored and avoided me) had indeed placed me in the firing quadrant, and that he (the founder) had my name on a short list to fire, but my proactively seeking feedback and obviously being as frustrated with my own performance as they were was good enough for him to ignore my boss's recommendation and get me under a new boss.

During the two+ years that I worked under the new boss, I did some of my best work for the company, including a huge win for an important client, and in the midst of this resurgence I resigned to work for a different company.

I tell you this story because you should probably remember that it is in your best interests to confront this head-on; if you know why you're being let go/laid off, and it is something fixable, proactively work with your boss to ensure you are seen as a strong player in a poorly-fitting role (or some other appropriate scenario that gets your boss on your side.) If it is a mystery, or is something not in your control, go ask for explicit feedback; either they will give you negative feedback and you will know where you stand, or they will give you positive feedback (hopefully in writing) that can serve as a de facto reference or give you ammunition against a firin'.

Ultimately, take control of the situation, and start looking for work mmediately (no matter what else you choose to do.)
posted by davejay at 11:43 PM on August 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

1. I put this first because it's the most important: Start looking for a new job. None of this matters if you can move to another full-time position.

2. Stay put. You don't 100% know until they walk you out the door. A big project could roll in tomorrow that requires your skills, and even if the decision is already made they could change their mind. Also, as people have said, I believe choosing to leave removes any possibility of unemployment benefits.

3. Consult an employment lawyer about your noncompete, and about unemployment benefits. I know you are worried about money right now, but having specific legal advice is worth it especially in this situation. If you find out that your noncompete is unenforceable and retain the lawyer to fight it, then that legal visit will be worth every paycheck you get after this. If you find out that your contract is enforceable, then you won't go barking up the wrong tree.

How should I comport myself?

With professionalism. Do your work, but don't work your fingers to the bone – put in 40 hours then spend your time finding a new job where you feel secure.

Final note: did someone forward an email to you? You say it's unambiguous, but it's not for 2 reasons. 1) Emails can be altered. What you received may not actually be the email that was sent. 2) Decisions can change.
posted by Tehhund at 5:07 AM on August 16, 2012

IANAL and all that. My understanding is that firing (for cause) puts certain burdens on the employer, in particular opening them up to the threat of litigation. Unless the employee has done some sort of gross violation recently (e.g., stolen something from the company, punched a subordinate) the usual preparation for firing involves a long and involved series of evaluations, consultations, written plans for the employee's improvement in specific areas, and so forth. So unless you know that one or the other of these situations (gross violation or paper trail) is happening, the more likely explanation for a termination would be a layoff. They'll say the position was eliminated or there was a general downsizing of the department or whatever.

In that case, you are so far as I know eligible for unemployment benefits. So it is your interest to have your employer pull the trigger, if you will pardon the expression. In the meantime, you have warning that the layoff is likely happening soon, which means that you are going to want to get ready to transition: get your personal stuff together, download off the network any personal-related files you may have there, brush up your resume, start the networking process.

I can speak from personal experience here that nobody likes laying people off, so whatever you do to make the process smoother and quicker is likely to be appreciated. If you take a tone of "of course I'm sorry to leave because this is a great place to work, but I understand you have to make some tough decisions" then they are likely to be much more amenable to making your part of the process easy too.

In the termination meeting, listen carefully, ask non-emotional questions as they occur to you, smile, shake hands afterward. This is not the time for venting. HR will ordinarily tell you something like "this termination is unrelated to job performance" or else language to that effect will be included in the agreement you are asked to sign. If the language is not there, you can ask explicitly for it to be inserted. Remember, they want you to sign the termination agreement (which ordiinarily includes a waiver saying you will not sue them for wrongful termination) so they can get you out the door and off payroll, and, frankly, off their conscience. So you do have that as leverage.

This is all moot of course if you are being fired for cause, but at least from what you've told us this doesn't sound like what'a happening. However, if you are fired for cause, I think the same general attitude is a good one for the exit interview: calm, confident, non-confrontational.

This is totally not the end of the world, and honestly you are in a far better position than many people in this situation. Having freelance clients is an automatic source of networking opportunities, for example.
posted by La Cieca at 5:20 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't want a firing on my record, personally.

There is no "record". The company will either disclose what happened or they won't.

If they only say whether you are eligibile for re-hire or not, quitting right before you get fired won't make them say you are eligibile for rehire. If they will disclose what happened, they're not going to suddenly give you a good review just becaue you quit a week before you were going to get fired any way.
posted by spaltavian at 5:39 AM on August 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

spaltavian's correct: there's no such thing as a "record."

People worry way too much about their former companies slagging them in reference checks. In any company large enough to have an HR department or lawyer onstaff, it is very rare to get a bad reference. Most organizations will either only confirm dates of employment, or they will give a positive reference. Why? It's really simple: the potential downside of giving a bad reference outweighs the upside. Giving a bad reference is unpleasant and means you could get sued. The upside is you could spare some other company from hiring someone who's not great. Most companies don't care much about other companies: why would they?

One exception is small companies that don't have benefit of legal/HR advice, where the company is mad at you and wants to trashtalk you. The other is tightly networked circles, where the person giving the reference wants to protect their individual credibility -- e.g., academia.

But really, most companies, in most circumstances, will not give a bad reference. People really worry about this too much.
posted by Susan PG at 8:56 AM on August 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

All good advice above.

1. Sounds like you are being laid off, not 'fired'. Be sure to use that terminology (ie 'laid off')

2. You should be able to get unemployment. Just don't do anything stupid to generate cause between now and then.

3. Noncompete should not apply unless they are going to additionally compensate you with severence for a period of time, in which case, they will expect non compete to be in existence until severence runs out. Your choice if you want to take the conditions of severence/non compete or no severence. I'd go with severence and use that time and money to continue job searching. You can file for unemployment while you receive severance, by the way, and collect both.

4. references; yes, they will just confirm your employment period, nothing more or less.

5. it won't be a 'stain' being laid off. It's a norm in today's environment. Especially if it is a startup.
posted by rich at 9:52 AM on August 16, 2012

Let them fire you. Unemployment (which is an office I am overly familiar with) will place the burden on the employer to prove that you are not eligible for unemployment. This usually involves the employer accusing you of something, you getting to refute it (usually all this is on the phone with your employment officer) and then the unemployment office ruling on it (usually in your favor, unless you did something REALLY bad that they have evidence for).

Be sure to forward all relevant emails to yourself. Maybe create a mirror of your work email. That's the #1 thing I wish I had done in my situation(s). Also, bring home things you can't live without (DO NOT take materials that belong to the company, such as client files or computers. Obviously). I wish I had personal photos and such like. In both cases of my termination from corporations, I was not allowed to get any of my things. None of them. So my photos got thrown out, my coat (in one case) was thrown out, my plants were thrown out. I wasn't allowed back in (and no, I didn't do anything bad, I just had some terrible bosses who didn't care too much about legality).
posted by mrfuga0 at 9:53 AM on August 16, 2012

Consult an employment lawyer about... about unemployment benefits.

You shouldn't need to do this unless things really escalate.

Here's how unemployment works.

You go to the NY state unemployment page -- it's a subset of the Labor Department website, but googling "NYS unemployment" will bring it up in the top few hits.

Choose to "start a new claim".

There's an online form and questionnaire. Fill it out. To do this, you'll need a pay stub at least, but if you have W2's or any other official type paperwork, that's good too.

It's theoretically possible to have your claim submitted entirely online, but often you fill out the form and it prompts you to call in to complete the claim. This is not a big deal, though the system can feel a little byzantine. Welcome to basically being on welfare. This experience will teach you once and for all that there's no way Welfare Queens actually exist.

So you submit your claim online or you call in to complete it. This will enter it for "processing". In other words, they're going to look through all the records and make sure you're actually eligible for unemployment and how much money you'd get. I believe this is also the window where your employer can claim that you were fired for cause, but see everyone else about the likelihood of that actually happening.

Within a few days they'll notify you in writing whether you qualify, the amount you qualify for, with a degree of "showing their work" on how they got that amount. There's an appeals process if you feel like this wasn't calculated to your advantage.

It's at this point that you'd need to talk to an employment lawyer about unemployment eligibility, NOT right off the bat about whether you'd be eligible in the first place. The state labor department is happy to tell you whether you're eligible, as part of their process for administering benefits. If unemployment says you're eligible, go for it! No need to talk to a lawyer.
posted by Sara C. at 10:53 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

When you get notice, you might see how negotiable the terms are. For instance, since it's harder to get a job when you don't have one, I have noticed that some firms these days are willing to let you say that you're still working when actually you aren't. This isn't usually because the old company is so compassionate, though I'm sure that happens, but it's more the result of some tough negotiating. It's cheap for the company and good for you, too.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:11 AM on August 16, 2012

I don't live in NY, but I have applied for unemployment many times. The first time, I wad fired for cause. My former employer fought very hard and won--I did not get any unemployment. The second time, I had a temp job and the temp company didn't fight at all (I wasn't let go for cause, but I did break my leg and had to miss some work). The third time, I was once again fired for cause (this will all be its own Ask soon I'm sure!), and I got the benefits. That employer fought me for them, and won. I fought BACK and won. He fought back AGAIN, and so we had to have a hearing. He won the hearing, but by that point it had taken so long, they let me keep the money. TLDR; definitely wait for the company to terminate you and then apply for unemployment.

Also, every time I lost my job I had $0 savings. Not to be all "woe is me", though it certainly is, but--you're in a pretty awesome position right now. If I had $11k I don't know if I'd even bother applying for any job I didn't think I'd LOVE.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 1:02 PM on August 16, 2012

Mod note: From the OP:
Update: it happened this afternoon as predicted. All things considered it went as cordially as it could have gone. No misconduct, they had no issues with my work/loyalty, etc. Right now any advice re: benefits (I was putting off a needed dentist trip... sigh), unemployment and freelancing, general next steps/protocol, etc would be appreciated. Thanks again. the reality check, at least, is helpful.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:26 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Be extremely careful about mixing freelance work an unemployment insurance.

For sure, if you are ever speaking to an unemployment rep, DO NOT lead with the fact that you sometimes do freelance work or are generally open to freelancing. Similarly, if you are working on your own projects, volunteering, or helping friends for free, do not ever even remotely allude to this.

From the Unemployment Office's perspective, they want you pounding the pavement looking for work, or they want you in front of the TV tuned out. Any constructive action you do is potentially "work" and could thus render you ineligible for benefits. They do not define work as exchanging your labor for pay. They define work as almost any constructive labor, period. Writing a novel? That's work! Teaching a class at a community center? Work! Helping to install a friend's art show? Also work!

If you get freelance work, great. If you want to seek out freelance work, also great. But do not inform anyone in the unemployment office that you are a "freelancer". Because next thing you know, you're "working" and thus not eligible for benefits. Even if you're not actually working. Because working to you and working to them are two different things.

That said, if you do freelance work in the course of being unemployed, be as honest about it as possible. Just don't throw out there, "hey, actually I'm not unemployed, I'm a freelancer!" You have nothing to prove to these people. You want them to think you're unemployed, and the teensiest thing can cause them to think otherwise.
posted by Sara C. at 10:34 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

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