I'm About to be Fired. Now What?
June 12, 2014 4:23 PM   Subscribe

I walked into work today and was suspended with potential termination for policy violations, one of which does include the event that led me to ask this question. Where do I go from here?

The suspension was suspiciously timed BEFORE I was scheduled to use all of my vacation hours this weekend, and after my replacement* was trained (hence I was no longer needed). I've given them my keys; taken all personal belongings; and will theoretically hear from them next week about whether I will be reinstated as a manager or need to come in to sign an acknowledgement of termination. According to HR, I will not be able to liquidate my vacation hours if I am terminated, and cannot liquidate them during my suspension.

What I'm wondering now - for the purposes of this question, please believe me when I say that my boss will do whatever it takes to ensure that I don't return - is how to deal with potential employers. I have spent a year and a few months here, and picked up several skills along the way. I have also mentored one of the employees, and helped him transfer from the local community college into Rutgers. But I didn't quit (which would make leaving the job on my resume more justifiable). So:

1) Do I keep the job on my resume? If so, what do I say when interviewers ask about it? Citing the policy violations does not highlight the extenuating circumstances behind each one.

2) Do I omit the job? If so, how do I compensate for what will appear as a two-year gap between graduation and now? The expiration date on my degree has already passed. Also:

3) When background checks are conducted, would policy violations be divulged in detail as reasons for my being terminated? What happens during those? I really just need to know how much damage this termination is going to do.

Thanks, all.

*other employees, and inadvertently the replacement, confirmed that she was hired as a means of pushing me out of the store.
posted by Ashen to Work & Money (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, you put the job on the resume. It is very likely that all they will ever say about you is that they wouldn't re-hire you. No, background checks do not include soft details like cause, unless you were prosecuted. Background checks are on your police record, driving record (sometimes), and credit (sometimes).

When you are asked about the job, you say it was a remarkably difficult environment and you should have left before you did, but you just decided to hold out in hopes of changes. You are not the only person to ever experience office politics, they will know what you mean. It is only important that you do not actually badmouth anyone because that makes you look unprofessional. Look sad about the sorry state things came to, and then hopeful about the future.

Use your friend as a reference. Do not use your former boss as a reference, just give them the HR number so they can verify the length of your employment.

This is honestly not as catastrophic as you want it to be. If the person interviewing you thought your former employer was the greatest place in the world, they would be working there instead of interviewing you.

I don't know what policies you violated, but unless you stole money or beat someone up or otherwise committed a crime, nobody cares. This is a store of some kind, not a bank or the FBI.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:38 PM on June 12, 2014 [11 favorites]

But I didn't quit (which would make leaving the job on my resume more justifiable)

No, not really - eventually you'll need to answer the question why you left your old job. "I quit because I was about to be fired" is the same as "I was fired."

Do I keep the job on my resume?
Do I omit the job?

Yes. You did useful things (you just stated some of them), and you can't get away with a two year gap on your resume.

When background checks are conducted, would policy violations be divulged in detail as reasons for my being terminated?

Most background checks will just contact the employer directly at the corporate offices. If that's the case, it's possible the corporate officials will indicate that as a reason for being terminated, but not likely. Companies don't really like to invite lawsuits, so as long as you're gone, there's no benefit to them to say why you're gone. If a background check is particularly in-depth, they may try to get ahold of your prior manager. Again, the same applies here. The manager may indicate the termination was due to policy violations, or he may just say "she didn't work out." Again, it's a question of incentives - your manager isn't really helped in any way by trying to discourage future employers from hiring you, but your manager would run the risk of lawsuits/HR annoyance by doing so. This certainly doesn't mean it's impossible/illegal for your employer to try to make you unemployable, just that it's not really common/likely.

Do note that people are fired all the time. Those people tend to find new work. It's not the end of your career, really.
posted by saeculorum at 4:39 PM on June 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

According to HR, I will not be able to liquidate my vacation hours if I am terminated, and cannot liquidate them during my suspension.

That sounds illegal to me. Do NOT take HR's word for this - it sounds to me like the company is trying to screw you out of compensation you've already earned.
posted by anonymisc at 4:41 PM on June 12, 2014 [44 favorites]

1) Do I keep the job on my resume? If so, what do I say when interviewers ask about it?

Interviewers ask you this as a test to see if you'll be a difficult employee. So: Focus on skills you learned. If they ask why you left, you say it was a tough environment (aka not a good fit) BUT you are looking forward to A, B, and C about [new position], and are excited that your skills are a good match. Never, ever, ever, ever badmouth a past employer. (Ask me how I know!)

And let me be among the first to say I'm so glad you're out of that wacky place. This is the first day of things getting BETTER for you.
posted by mochapickle at 4:42 PM on June 12, 2014 [8 favorites]

Re the vacation thing: this is crazy different from state to state. In California you always get compensation, but in other states I've worked (Utah, Texas) you don't.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:43 PM on June 12, 2014

Regarding vacation hours/compensation: I'm in New Jersey, if it helps
posted by Ashen at 4:43 PM on June 12, 2014

That sounds illegal to me.

A quick Google search indicates New Jersey does not obligate employers to pay out vacation time upon termination, and that payment of vacation time is solely up to the agreement between the employee and the employer.
posted by saeculorum at 4:44 PM on June 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Put it on the resume. It's really not uncommon to leave a job because the work environment has become intolerable; it's really not uncommon for people to get fired because the tensions in an intolerable work environment reach breaking point and management holds the power.

You're more than allowed to explain that it was a difficult work environment, but leave at at that without going on a tear about individuals or their actions.
posted by holgate at 4:44 PM on June 12, 2014

After reading the previous question and this one, I would say you should call an employment lawyer first thing tomorrow morning. Things you can ask your lawyer about:
  • Loss of earned vacation time.
  • Discrimination on basis of gender.
  • Retaliation.
The MeFi Wiki has a page on how to Get a lawyer.
posted by grouse at 4:46 PM on June 12, 2014 [18 favorites]

Agreeing with mochapickle. I'm a former manager and have hired a few folks over the years. Never, ever badmouth your former employer.

Don't say it was a difficult work environment, because all work environments are difficult in some ways. Instead, say what was suggested above, that you no longer work there because it was a bad fit.

Then do that interview thing where you stay on message no matter how the follow up question is phrased. Why was it a bad fit? Because you have a passion to keep learning new skills/take on additional responsibility/whatever.

You want to appear sane, smart, easy to work with and willing to work hard. So just beat the "bad fit" drum and explain why the job you are interviewing for is a much better fit and how excited you are to be considered for the position, etc.

Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 5:37 PM on June 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Good ole corporate America has no empathy for you the worker. Remember that fact. Your career is up to you and you should do what is RIGHT for you. From my long work experience in large software company and largest retailer, I have come to the conclusion that almost everyone lies/hides/distorts facts/includes/excludes what and how it suits them on their resume. Your resume is your showcase, I do not attribute to the thought that you are obligated to include all work experience. However you have no reason not to include this one. Most companies will not call your prior employers. They dont have the time for that. Secondly you have nothing to fear since you obviously were a good employee or at the least a diligent employee. You do NOT have to go into huge details about your prior jobs with future employers. One hallmark of a professional is to know when to say what. Keep it succint and to the point. Also do not comment in this job on what your future plans are, to anyone. Like I said, it is your career, dont let anyone dictate, influence, modify what and where you are going. Keep it on the resume, focus on good aspects in an interview, nobody deserves an explanation from you, you give answers as it suits you. End of story. Keep it simple.
posted by jbean at 6:00 PM on June 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

don't forget to apply for unemployment benefits the moment your paycheck stops. looking at your previous question, i'm wondering if you might have a worker's comp claim and an EEOC claim too, but that's for a labor lawyer to decide.
posted by bruce at 6:01 PM on June 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeeeeeah, that sounds reasonably judiciable on discrimination grounds (though that's a whole yucky kettle of fish you might not want to open up).

As to references, yes, put it down; if you're asked about it say you'd rather not say negative things about a former employer but that it was a tough working environment. Good prospective employers should understand.
posted by Sebmojo at 7:15 PM on June 12, 2014

Oh: and everything good in your life from now on will be to some extent a direct consequence of where you are right now: chin up :)
posted by Sebmojo at 7:16 PM on June 12, 2014

What people do in this situation is put it on your resume and then get a CO-WORKER who liked you to give you a reference. It's a retail job so no one will wonder why you moved on. Start applying for new jobs NOW. File for unemployment.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:43 AM on June 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

Keep it on your resume. You don't have to give the details of why you were fired; you are excited to be exploring new opportunities now because they offer XYZ. You will have to work on how to finesse that, but a big gap on your resume would be worse (and less truthful).
posted by J. Wilson at 5:02 AM on June 13, 2014

You could resign and then you are not fired but I don't know what that does to your vacation under New Jersey law. Young rope-rider is right about that references,etc. When asked why you left indicate that you believed that you needed new opportunities to challenge you. Your employer should only say hire or not if contacted unless you did something that would land you in jail. In that case you have other issues bigger than this job. PS I have had to do this a couple of times....thus, I have never been "fired".
posted by OhSusannah at 6:09 AM on June 13, 2014

You should really talk to an employment lawyer. In many cases (but certainly not all) you can cash out your accrued vacation time if you resign, but you may not qualify for unemployment benefits if you voluntarily leave your job. Conversely, if you are let go you will qualify for unemployment but may not be able to cash out your vacation time. I will assume that unless you already have another job lined up, that steady unemployment checks will be worth more to you than a little bit of saved vacation time - in which case it's best to let them go ahead and fire you.

And yes - after reading your previous questions - this is probably better for you in the long run. People get fired all the time and manage to land new jobs and have successful careers. Don't stress, just start looking forward to your next job.
posted by trivia genius at 7:37 AM on June 13, 2014

To answer your questions:

1) Yes, keep it on, and own the accomplishments you've had. When asked on an application (i.e., not while talking with someone) why you left, skip it if possible, and if not possible put something like "seeking other opportunities." Some times electronic applications require you to put a response in this field, and you want to put something vague and positive there. When asked in person (i.e., during an interview), the responses above are good. If someone asks you point blank whether you were fired (some interviewers are jerks), I would be honest, but frame it in as professional and positive a way as possible ("my position there was terminated, but I believe that was for the best and I'm looking forward to using my skills to do x, or learn y.").

2) Do not omit the job.

3) The policy violations appear to be allowing employees to dress more comfortably during a snowstorm and not opening emails. These and other similar, minor issues will not show up on a background check, and further, nobody cares. I would not into detail about them, or try to explain them, or really mention them at all.
posted by jeoc at 11:09 AM on June 13, 2014

The policy violations appear to be allowing employees to dress more comfortably during a snowstorm and not opening emails.

If these are the levels of policy violation you have committed, I would suggest at least having a discussion prepared - even if you don't use it. Because, as a person who hires, I can imagine the conversation going like this:

ME: So why did you leave Store Place?
YOU: Ultimately, I didn't fit in very well and eventually management took issue with some policy violations I chose to make.
ME: Ooh, do tell.
YOU: I relaxed dress code during a snowstorm. I didn't open an email. I had to go to the emergency room on a day I was scheduled to work.
ME: Oh...honey.

Honestly, my internal concern would be that you don't have the sense to leave a terrible job, which is probably your best reason not to bring this stuff up. Like I don't know if I would trust you to be able to handle an abusive customer or employee, because you won't stand up for yourself.

But if you go several rounds of interviews and feel like this is in the way of your progress, then maybe you do need to bring it up and then say, "And what I learned from that is that I needed to improve my crisis communication methodology, though there's only so much I can do when I'm semi-conscious, but now I keep my manager's number in my ICE entry in my phone." Blah blah blah effective management strategy blah lessons blah.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:53 AM on June 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

I strongly recommend Ask A Manager; she writes extensively on these matters and you could send her an E-mail specifically.

But I also recommend an employment lawyer.
posted by Amy NM at 7:32 PM on June 13, 2014

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