Should I quit my job?
June 15, 2006 1:29 PM   Subscribe

It's very possible I'll be fired from my job next Wednesday. Should I resign before then? What should I tell prospective employers?

Due to some largely personal problems with my boss (jealousy, lack of professionalism, me taking the fall for her increasingly visible incompetence), I was nearly fired a month ago. I managed to talk my boss and her supervisor into a month of probation in which to prove myself.

That month ends next Wednesday, and, thanks to lots of undermining from the boss, I'm not sure I can make a strong case for myself. Anyhow, it's hard to prove yourself when the core of the problem is an unprofessional, possibly crazy boss who has admitted, in front of upper management, that she "can't stand [me]" and thinks I "act like a bitch." (If it offers you context, I made the terrible mistake of dating someone my boss apparently liked, though he's ten years younger than her, not interested, and she has several boyfriends at the moment.) She's been here for over a decade and cannot be deposed.

I spent the last month sending out resumes and have landed a second interview with a great possibility. My resume is competitive, and I'm not terribly worried about finding something.

However--I'm wondering what to do, since I can't use the boss or anyone above her as a reference, and that's a flag for prospective employers. And I'd kind of like to resign before they can fire me, but I'm wondering if that's a good idea. The odds are about even that I'll be fired, get to resign, or be kept on. There's no good way to tell what will happen. I won't get unemployment if I'm fired (they'll call it neglect of duties), but I have enough to live for about three months.

What's the strongest position to shoot for, given that I'll be interviewing? How should I explain what happened?
posted by hamster to Work & Money (38 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Does your company have an HR department? If so, then you need to tell them about your boss's unprofessionalism when it comes to the guy you were dating.

It's not exactly sexual harrassment, but it's something that could land the company in very very hot water if you tried to sue them.

But regardless of what your crazy boss decides to do, you need to leave and find a new job, or at least get a different, hopefully less crazy, boss in the same company.
posted by bshort at 1:35 PM on June 15, 2006

I would definately resign first - it sounds like you're pretty sure it's going to happen.
posted by jimmy0x52 at 1:35 PM on June 15, 2006

I'd quit. Use a sympathetic co-worker as a reference. Don't "explain" what happened - just put out that you'd reached the limit of your growth in that company (or some other good-sounding vagueness). Under no circumstances bring up your difficulties with the boss or the company. Everything was fine, but it's time for you to move on, etc.

Good luck.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:38 PM on June 15, 2006

Best answer: Attempt to resign. Odds are 2/3 that you will be gone next week anyway, so go out on your own terms.
Even if you were to stay on, do you really want to?
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:38 PM on June 15, 2006

Either way - whether you resign or are fired - it's very unlikely that you will get a good reference. But at least if you resign, you have the option of unemployment benefits should you need them, and you can present it - initially - to other employers as a change of the career. This gives you a better chance than if you have to explain you were fired. If they push you on why you resigned, or go to your current employers directly, I suppose you have to be honest in explaining a clash of personalities. But if you're weighing up pluses and minuses on both sides, there are more pluses if you quit. And as a bonus, you don't give them the satisfaction of firing you.
posted by greycap at 1:43 PM on June 15, 2006

greycap, if she's in the U.S., she doesn'tget UI benefits if she quits or is fired for cause.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:47 PM on June 15, 2006

Since you're currently employed, they wouldn't expect to use your boss as a reference, would they? I mean, most people that are currently employed and interviewing for jobs haven't given notice yet, and the people interviewing understand that often the job search needs to be kept under wraps. I don't think you need to explain anything to the interviewer except about why you're interested in working for them.
posted by witchstone at 1:49 PM on June 15, 2006

make 'em fire ya. the fact that they documented their problems with you might be a problem--but i would still go for unemployment. when you are rejected, request a hearing. bring up your wack boss then, too. if you resign, you just are making it easier for them.
posted by lester at 1:49 PM on June 15, 2006

Best answer: As you say, there are 3 outcomes:

1. You get fired - which given that standard reference requests ask for reason for leaving, is a bad thing
2. You get kept on - but it doesn't sound like anything would change, so you'll end up in the same stressed-out situation. Also a bad thing.
3. You resign - you sound confident that you're employable and that you'll find something soon enough - and having an enforced holiday away from the stress is (a) good in itself and (b) enables you to focus full time on the job search.

3. sounds best. Your main concern seems to be getting a reference. I've been there, and I used Kirth Gerson's approach - getting a colleague to be a referee. Choose someone who has a different job title to you - preferably someone that you have done some work FOR rather than WITH. Even someone you don't know that well is fine - it's flattering to be asked to be a referee, so most people will say yes and provide a good reference. Make sure that if they don't work with you closely that you send a description of the job you're applying for and explain briefly why it fits your skills - that will make it easier for them to write a good reference.

Oh, and never ever mention personality issues as a reason for leaving. That's a huge red flag to any potential employer.
posted by bella.bellona at 1:51 PM on June 15, 2006

Make them fire you. It'll up their unemployment insurance costs. Revenge is sweeeeet!
posted by Gungho at 1:54 PM on June 15, 2006

I would be cautious about resigning in advance. It is often tougher than people think to find a job while you aren't currently working. I have found that it makes me anxious, even irrationally so, about money.

Also, even if you were fired, your current company would likely not be able to tell a prospective employer that you were fired for "neglect of duties," or probably even that you were fired. Companies generally try not to get themselves into a legally liable position with such phone calls, especially since there's no reason for them to stick their collective neck out just to ruin your situation.

I don't see the advantage of resigning--you wouldn't have used these people as a reference anyway.

In any event, if you do resign or are fired, I would use the vaguest terms to describe the departure, something like "we decided I wasn't the best fit for the position" or "the company wasn't right for the direction I want to take in my career."

On preview, what everyone else said.
posted by lackutrol at 1:57 PM on June 15, 2006

Start looking for a new job TODAY. Regardless of whether you get fired next week or remain on staff for years, your career prospects and personal happiness here are not what they should be. So use that great resume to get a job you love with a boss who isn't a psycho.

As for the references, don't worry too much. Just list the HR dept's direct line. Unless this is a very small firm, HR knows the liability issues well and has drilled it into everyone that references are strictly name, rank, serial number: "Yes, Hamster worked here. The job title she gave you is correct. The date range she gave you is also correct. You have a nice day, too. [Click.]"

Hunting now has one added benefit. When you ask prospective employers to not call your current boss while you're still employed there, it won't send up any unusual red flags for them. It's such a common request.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 1:59 PM on June 15, 2006

Start looking for a new job. Document what's been going on. And look up constructive dismissal. There have been past threads on that here.
posted by acoutu at 2:02 PM on June 15, 2006

You need more information before deciding whether you want to quit now or wait and ask for the chance to resign.

I might try to do an end-run around your boss if it was me. Go to your boss' supervisor who is already looped into to the disciplinary action they are taking against you and ask for that person's opinion of your performance during the past probationary period. If you can convince that person you are competent, it will be harder for your boss to get rid of you. It may even be possible to get transferred so that you report to somebody else.

I'm not sure how formalized the management hierarchy is in your organization, so that person may be uncomfortable speaking to you without your direct supervisor present, but it's worth a shot. If you're really convinced that it won't go your way, and your bosses supervisor doesn't want to meet with you without your boss present, you could force the issue by mentioning some personal problems stemming from an overlap in your and your boss' romantic lives. That's a last resort kind of thing though because you might not get the sympathy you're looking for from it.

It all depends on how well this person knows you and what they think of you and what they think of your boss. I don't know you, but I tend to distrust people who are complaining about their boss being incompetent and engaging in weird behavior as you describe. That's not personal, because like I said I don't know you at all. I just reflexively take management's side in that kind of stuff, and my experience has been that other managers will as well. Doesn't mean it isn't true -- just means it is a mistake to use it unless you feel you have nothing left to lose.
posted by willnot at 2:05 PM on June 15, 2006

Involve HR. They won't specifically help you, but they may help you by brokering an adequate reference. They want to protect the employer from a suit or any hassle. Your employer must provide verification of dates worked. If you want, you can write HR a letter prohibiting them from supplying any other reference than dates worked.

Use your time to document your good work, get possible refernces from other staff and replenish your home office supplies (kidding).

I'd let them fire you, and try to get some severance. 2 weeks of pay from a job you want to leave has a soothing effect. Since you were good at persuading them to give you a 2nd chance, you're likely to get them to give you an okay letter of reference. Get it in writing. Pull together a list of documented successes and a draft ketter of reference. Ask them to sign it.

I had a supervisor gunning for me. Giving notice was sweet. When his boss asked why I was leaving, providing said boss with documentation of my work, and the supervisor's bad attitude was also sweet. Best of all, being in a job where my manager is smart, hard-working and generally great.
posted by theora55 at 2:06 PM on June 15, 2006

Are you concerned about health insurance? If so, you need to think about whether having a gap in your coverage will affect your ability to qualify for insurance later and whether or not you can afford to maintain some kind of insurance while you are job-hunting. You may want to verify that you will be eligible for COBRA if you resign. In fact, you may want to check into COBRA anyway, because small companies can be exempt from offering it, even if they let you go.

Also, I tried googling this, but was overwhelmed with off-topic hits: Can a prospective employer find out if you collected unemployment insurance in the past, and use that as a reason (stated or implicit) to not hire you? It seems like that would be discrimination of some sort, but it may be worth checking into in your state?
posted by SuperSquirrel at 2:13 PM on June 15, 2006

Gungho is right, if you do get unemployment, their insurance costs will go up for 3-5 years. Way to leave a lasting impression.

Seriously, I would resign. Speak to the HR person, or, lacking that, the most senior person involved. Make it sound like you are making it easier on them, that it isn't a comfortable situation, etc (but don't put that in your letter of resignation, stick to the standard: for personal reasons, career change, expanding skills, whatever). Tell them you will resign on the condition that you get a letter of recommendation.
posted by necessitas at 2:27 PM on June 15, 2006

Which is most important: Your pride, your career, or your money?
posted by profwhat at 2:33 PM on June 15, 2006

Response by poster: This is very helpful, folks. Thanks. Some answers that might help:

1. We're a smallish nonprofit, and there's no HR. My boss's direct sups have raised her since she was practically a baby, and are unlikely to provide support or references.

2. I may get an offer pending my interview next week. How should I address the lack of supervisor reference?

3. If/when I find myself in the review next week, how can I convince them to allow me resign and convince them to refuse to give a reference? My coworker in the same position can give a peer reference, but I want my boss and everyone else to promise silence.

4. I'm not concerned about health insurance, and it's very unlikely I'd qualify for unemployment. But the severence issue is interesting... how does that work? Do I have to be fired, or can we mutually agree to terminate our relationship? How do I ask for it?
posted by hamster at 2:35 PM on June 15, 2006

Response by poster: In order: My career, my pride, and then money. I freelance and have savings, so I'm not worried. I just don't want to be counted out of anything because the boss had a change to sabotage me. I have several friends here, and several professional contacts I'd like to keep, so it's in my best interests to leave quietly and without drama. People here talk--that's how I found out my boss is sleeping with our programmer, who keeps getting promoted!
posted by hamster at 2:38 PM on June 15, 2006

How should I address the lack of supervisor reference?

Don't bring it up. It's unlikely that they will say "We need to speak with your previous or current supervisor." If they ask for a reference, provide them with one, but don't go into a long explanation about why the reference is not your boss. (I've worried about this, too, and the past three jobs I've had, no one even called my references at all.)

but I want my boss and everyone else to promise silence.

I don't understand. Do you think your boss will contact the place you are currently interviewing? Will your peer reference blab about it to your boss?
posted by mattbucher at 2:48 PM on June 15, 2006

Best answer: If you don't want your current boss to give a reference, don't provide their name to prospective employers. Give your coworker's name and their cell phone number, if necessary. Legally savvy employers don't give subjective references (good or bad) anymore anyway - there is too much of a risk of a lawsuit. Yours doesn't sound like Perry Mason, but if a prospective employer doesn't have their name, how will they ask for a reference from them?
posted by Rock Steady at 2:49 PM on June 15, 2006

Best answer: Based on your followup, I think your biggest priority should be on managing impression of prospective employers. And no one wants to hire someone isn't (rah rah) a "team player" (i.e. making the boss look great). So no more sharing gossip about which co-workers are sleeping with who, no more mentions of the relevance of either your love life or your boss's prospective love life, and no more discussing what's wrong with your boss no matter how true[*]. Whatever you say, even in confidence, clearly is going to circulate around the office and very quickly reach other ears -- maybe someone who will recognize you as the resume under consideration.

[*] Unless you're anticipating legal hassles from either side. In which case, hire an attorney now, and ignore our advice.

Forget trying to go over the boss's head. Considering the loyalties, it'll just be interpreted as "talking behind our beloved employee's/surrogate child's back" -- plus, considering the probation and the relative strength of your positions, you've already lost any opportunity to be viewed as a credible witness in the owners' eyes. It's lose/lose, so just don't go there.

Instead, whatever happens next, handle it with such remarkable dignity, pleasantness, and professonalism that that is what gets engraved on everyone's memory. Objective: make it impossible for anyone to say a (true) negative thing about you.

Again, get those resumes out immediately. However, resign only when you're ready.

Don't negotiate for a pact of silence. Even if you manage to get such a concession (and what do you have to trade for it anyway??), the result is all bad. BIG red flag waved by "I am not at liberty to discuss Hamster" non-reference-references, while turning your final days into a VERY dramatic story for people to discuss and share. Think Streisand Effect. Bad idea.

You're making way too much of the reference. You say you've got great skills, resume, and are hard working. You're going to get another job. Stop wasting any more energy caring about this one.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 3:13 PM on June 15, 2006

If they fire you, they will have a permanent record of this and even if your current boss is replaced, you can never apply for a job at the same place. If you give notice and resign, HR isn't likely to put a "do not rehire" in your employment record.
posted by Megafly at 3:20 PM on June 15, 2006

No HR dept makes it trickier. One more question - how long have you been there? The longer you've been there, the more a potential employer will look for a reference from your most recent place of work.

If you've not been there long, a colleague reference (again, make sure their job title is different) and a supervisor from a previous job should be fine. Throw in a personal referee for good measure.

If you've been there a long time, include the colleague reference and a personal reference. Can you get someone higher up to be a general referee? I find that the more senior the referee, the less they can comment on your specific performance but the more weight they carry anyway.

Suggestion from the outfield - do you have any clients that would be happy to give you a reference? I did this in my last job change (boss was an ass, didn't trust him to not sabotage me) and it worked really well (I got the job). Depending on your role, it could be a way to escape the internal politics?

Remember that employers are unlikely to seek references before they've offered you the job, at which point they're just looking for basic confirmation that you're an okay employee, not as information on which to base the hiring decision.

I don't think there's any way that your immediate boss or her superiors can provide an unsolicited reference. And if they do, there are serious legal repercussions for doing so. So I wouldn't worry about that too much.
posted by bella.bellona at 3:25 PM on June 15, 2006

You can't use them for a reference anyway. If you are in the U.S., don't quit. At the very least, wait long enough until your probation is over and see if they fire you; you'll get unemployment.

On the other hand, it might leave a better impression on your other professional contacts there if you resign.
posted by gt2 at 3:39 PM on June 15, 2006

Best answer: Let them fire you, and ask them to do it in writing, including the reasons why. Just smile when they fire you and say, "I'd like to receive that in writing, including the effective date and the reason for termination."

You may be surprised at the letter you receive. If they run it by their lawyer, it may be weasel-worded enough that it's nothing to be ashamed of.

If they don't, they may write something that's actionable; in which case you could see a lawyer about it.

Don't lose your cool. Imagine that whoever is speaking to you is naked; that's guaranteed to take your mind off the inherent unpleasantness of the situation.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:45 PM on June 15, 2006

Have them fire you so that you get the severance package!!!!!!!
posted by k8t at 4:16 PM on June 15, 2006

ps, you don't know if they'll use "neglect of duty"
posted by k8t at 4:17 PM on June 15, 2006

Best answer: You DO NOT get unemployment if you resign! Someone misspoke above.

You should let them fire you, and here's why:

You have nothing at all to lose by being fired, since you will not get a good reference no matter what. The only thing you do have to lose is 'pride', and frankly you know the deal and what's going on, so what's the difference if you beat them to the punch, really? Nothing.

If you wait to be fired, and it turns out you're not fired -- fine, keep looking for a new job and earning a salary while doing so! Then you get to get out of there on your terms.

You have something to lose if you resign -- unemployment benefits.

You say you don't think you'll get unemployment, but you're probably not correct about that. At an old job I was at, my boss tried to contest unemployment on several people he fired, and got rejected EVERY TIME. They got their unemployment, and he lost.

He tried to contest it saying the firing was for "incompetence" (which was complete BS) so he shouldn't have to pay unemployment. Well, unless you document this pretty well, you're not going to be in very good shape.

Ignore stupid letters from stupid lawyers about how you shouldn't bother to seek unemployment -- seek it unless you have found and accepted a new job before you are fired.

The only way you should be worried you won't get unemployment is if you think your boss will be able to make a solid argument that you were, in fact, incompetent at your job.
posted by twiggy at 4:38 PM on June 15, 2006

That boss sounds like a whacko. So, do get out of there. But, you truly should look to Human Resource in order to right this wrong. Abuse of power, she should be held accountable. I don't know what line of work you are in, so maybe its easier said than done....
posted by peglam at 4:38 PM on June 15, 2006

Best answer: Oh yeah, here's some tips on how to handle being fired, too.
posted by twiggy at 4:40 PM on June 15, 2006

...oops..I just read no HR and some other info you provided. Ignore my post regarding HR...
posted by peglam at 4:43 PM on June 15, 2006

Best answer: Sorry, yet one more post:

DO NOT SIGN ANYTHING without reading it thoroughly. Often they'll make you sign something saying you can't sue, etc. You don't have to sign anything to be fired! The only reason you would have to sign it is if they are offering you severance pay, in which case to get the pay you'll have to sign it to get the money -- a tradeoff you'll have to consider.

another useful link.
posted by twiggy at 4:44 PM on June 15, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the info! It looks like I actually will qualify for unemployment if I'm dismissed, as I haven't shown substantial neglect of duties or misconduct. They're going to be invested in keeping their unemployment insurance low (one of the reasons I suspect they allowed me the month to search), so that's a nice bargaining chip.

How does one negotiate a severance package?

And thanks for the tip about not worrying overmuch about my boss serving as a reference. I'm worried that a potential employer would see through using someone else, but it's true that everyone has worked for a psycho at one time or another (I don't talk about her this way EVER in real life! My line is "I respect her and have learned a lot from working with her..."). A good future boss will be understanding and know enough to let my credentials and other excellent references speak for themselves.
posted by hamster at 5:56 PM on June 15, 2006

Final point on not using your boss as a reference - you can explain that easily by saying why you provided the references that you provided - 'i worked for X most closely on a day-to-day basis' or 'the work i did for Y's project most closely fits the work I will be doing in my new role' - sell it as providing the best reference they could get. But basically, shouldn't be an issue.

I'd still be wary about being fired - ideally you don't want unemployment benefits, you want a new job, right? In the UK, 'reason for leaving' is a standard question on reference requests. And if it says 'fired', that's not good. If that's not the case in the US, then ignore me.
posted by bella.bellona at 6:10 PM on June 15, 2006

Best answer: has excellent advice on this.
posted by lilboo at 7:04 PM on June 15, 2006

Just wanted to point out, as someone who found themselves in a similar situation: Yes, you would generally qualify for unemployment in this situation. Incompetence, AFAIK, is not a cause to void unemployment claims. No, you have to be fired for gross negligence to void your unemployment. Basically, you either have to light the building on fire or kill a coworker. In most other cases, including this one, you would qualify. It sounds like they don't have much on you, anyway. (SIGN NO DOCUMENTS ATTESTING TO SUCH A FACT.)

But then again, we're talking about a stopgap solution to a potentially long period of unemployment. So I would pour all your resources into securing another job offer - and soon. It sounds like you're close.

Use friendly and competent co-workers as references. Just make sure that, when they are contacted, they are FULLY PREPARED to state why you were good at what you did as a profession. Don't choose a person who will just say "Yo, he/she is the nicest person to work with". You want your references to be effective. You need it in today's career marketplace.

And, uhh, screw your boss. Really. It's one thing to have a personal grudge, and it's another thing to mess with someone's career. My hopes are that your boss is someday looking for a job under such duress. Sorry to hear about all this.
posted by brianvan at 9:33 PM on June 15, 2006

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