How do you know when you’ve been legitimately fired? No, I'm not as dumb as I sound here...
June 25, 2008 5:52 PM   Subscribe

How do you know when you’ve been legitimately fired? No, I'm not as dumb as I sound here...

Here’s the details. I worked for just over a year at a busy firm. (I’m keeping detailed purposely vague – you can contact me at if you have more questions or comments). I’m in an at-will state and there’s the usual, “we don’t have to give you a reason why we’re firing you” line in my contract.

The place has been stressful, and turnover has been a big issue – people have quit, and people have been fired. I didn’t have much contact with my boss, whom previously had said on all occasions that I was doing a great job. Deadlines increased with all the turnover, and we found ourselves on the same project – apparently a team member brought my boss onto the project when she didn’t like the suggestions I was making.

Both a coworker and I raised concerns about the speed of the project, and were subsequently fired – and I’m not sure if the firing is political or something else. I was giving one reason – “incompetence” – which is a word often used in our company. While I wasn’t happy at the place, I wanted to at least finish the project I had worked on (another one – not the one with the boss) before I had left, and instead I’m left wondering what happened. The coworker mentioned he’s going to speak with a lawyer – should I? I've never dealt with one and yes, I know IANAL etc. etc.

Does a company like this fight an unemployment insurance claim? We don’t have an HR department – just an external consultant who pops buy a few times a year when he’s in the neighborhood. The irony is that my boss didn’t fire me and neither did the HR person. The person who fired me was on the good project that I was finishing up and we had had a meeting in the morning, and he fired me in the afternoon. I feel like I’ve been professionally stabbed in the back and am worried that this firing will follow me since I'm in a small industry. They’ve already replaced me with someone who’s an alumni of the school most of the company has gone to – should I just chalk this up to not being an alumni? People have joked and said that there are 2 org charts there - the official one and the unofficial one. Should I just say, "well, the unofficial one won out"?

What to do? I am already moving on (i.e. networking and ensuring my resume is out there) but wanted to see if anyone had advice for someone in this kind of situation. I’m glad to be gone from this toxic place (I’ve left out the really mind boggling examples) but it’s hard when the rug’s been grabbed from right under you and you don't have a chance to catch your breath.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total)
It sounds like you're in some pain about this, but I am not sure what your question is. I've had the rug pulled from under me in this way, and it is terrible. Allow yourself to grieve the same as if you've lost anything, and then just move on.
posted by sweetkid at 6:08 PM on June 25, 2008

if you are an at will employee, I don't think a lawyer will be able to do much for you.

if they listed the reasonong as imcompetence, you may have trouble getting unemployment, but that depends a lot on the state you are in.

If it were me, I'd just move on. If your industry is as small as you say, the last thing you want is a judge AGREEING with your ex-employer that you were, in fact, incompotent!!
posted by Mr_Chips at 6:09 PM on June 25, 2008

Oddly, from the front page wording I thought you were asking how you could tell if someone had ~really~ (legitimately) fired you.

Of course IANAL, but I work in the industry (LA/paralegal), and I can tell you that I've been told by lawyers I've worked with that discrimination cases of any but the most blatant sort are really hard to prove. If you want to pay for the consultation with a lawyer, go for it, but I'm betting it's going to prove fruitless. In an "at will" state they can basically fire you because they don't like the color you wore to work that day.

On the unemployment thing, I'd give it a shot. They might not contest it. If they do, then you can decide if you want to deal with a hearing. I honestly don't know how they would ~prove~ to a judge that you were incompetent. I mean, do they have warnings they gave you? Do they have mistakes that you made that they can point to? If you try and they deny you, you might want to see if any lawyer can give you advice on ~that~. Good luck!
posted by Meep! Eek! at 6:27 PM on June 25, 2008

I'd say stop worrying and file for unemployment now. Depending on where you are, it may take several weeks to kick in, so don't wait to file.

If they want to fight it (seems unlikely, but who knows) there's probably some process for contesting it. I'd cross that bridge when I come to it, and concentrate instead on getting the next job.
posted by zippy at 6:32 PM on June 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

From what you've written, it sounds as if you've been (sorry) legitimately fired, all right. That's not to say it was fair or appropriate. But you haven't mentioned any factors that might give you grounds for a legal action: discrimination (unless you're a member of a protected class), wrongful discharge, "public policy" exceptions, etc.

Unemployment benefits ought to be available, unless the company can show some willful misconduct on your part. (State laws vary and my experience is limited, but that seems to be the general rule.)

I've been in your shoes. It feels bad, even if you know they are wrong. Networking is definitely your top priority now. Perhaps you can get good references from clients or selected co-workers. When you interview, be very careful in your comments about the "toxic place" you've left. Having this happen hurts, but could lead to very positive changes which you may never have known otherwise.
posted by Snerd at 6:54 PM on June 25, 2008

Your question seems to be "was I fired?" since neither the boss nor the HR person spoke to you about it. Is that correct?

You can confirm this by talking to the HR person. Perhaps you could call him/her and ask if you are eligible for COBRA or when you can roll over your 401(k) if you have one. Or, simply related what you were told and ask when your last paycheck will be.

Anyhow, if you believe you were fired go ahead and file for unemployment. Good luck in your hunt for the next job, and hopefully it will be better than this one!
posted by Robert Angelo at 7:29 PM on June 25, 2008

Does a company like this fight an unemployment insurance claim?

They might. But my experience (in NY State, learning more about the UI system than I ever cared to know) has been that most employers prefer not to contest the claim. Contesting the claim takes up time and resources that could be better spent on money-making endeavors.

Also, if they're claiming that you were fired for "incompetence", that's usually not a barrier to claiming unemployment, because "incompetence" (or, I should say, the employer's belief that you are incompetent) is NOT, strictly speaking, your fault. I think the phrase they use is that you have to be unemployed through no fault of your own.

Now, if you'd been fired for misconduct, like stealing or assaulting a coworker, that would be a different matter. In that case, the unemployment office would probably deny your claim.

Go ahead and file. If you file, they might try to deny you your money. If they do, you can fight back and if you decide to fight back, you have a very good chance of winning. If you don't file, you are denying yourself money that you're entitled to.

Don't do the ex-employer's job for them.

Good luck!
posted by jason's_planet at 8:44 PM on June 25, 2008

File for unemployment. Absentee boss + no HR probably means no one will contest the claim.
If they do you can argue your case at a claim hearing.
Then turn the page on those scumbags. Start a new chapter in your life.
Good luck.
posted by a3matrix at 6:27 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

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