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Monday, February 12, 2007

Fired With No Explanation

Hi Evil HR lady,

I was fired yesterday. The reason HR gave me was basically "It didn't work out." I was so shell-shocked at the time that I didn't ask for a clearer explanation, but the real reason is that my supervisor and I had a personality conflict.

My question: is there a way I can get a more exact explanation from the company for my getting fired? I would like something clear, because knowing the two parties, I imagine my supervisor had to go to her boss with something more credible than "I don't like her" to get me fired, and I'd like to know what that was.

Sincerely,

Confused


Dear Confused,

First, let me offer you some sympathy. Losing your job is never pleasant--especially in a situation such as this. I hope you get a great new job quickly, that pays significantly more than the old one.

As to learning about the firing itself, my best answer for you is maybe you can find out, and maybe you can't.

The first thing to understand is that almost all employees in the United States are "at will" employees. This means you have no contract and you can quit or be fired at any time--for cause or no cause. Companies are not obligated to pay severance, but some do in such situations.

Second, since you were fired on Friday, I suggest the first thing on your to do list on Monday is to visit your local unemployment office. This website from the Department of Labor should help you with that. Apply for unemployment. Your company may contest it. If they do, they'll be required to show that you either a. quit or b. were fired for cause. Hopefully you'll be granted unemployment. It's not a huge amount of money, but any money is better than none. If they contest it, you'll find out more about what they were thinking.

If you were working for a small company and your boss and her boss were close, it may well be just a case of "I just don't get along with her." Or more likely, "I don't like her as much as [outside candidate] so let's do a quick fire and hire." Small companies frequently neglect to have consistent policies and practices and make decisions this way. While this is perfectly legal, you need to be really careful because it can open you up to a whole host of problems.

In a large company, or one with established policies and procedures (and a good HR department), there probably was a lot more involved. There were probably meetings where things were discussed and documented. You have a legal right to review your employment file and you should go ahead and do that. Don't be surprised if there isn't anything substantive in it. Especially since you think a personality conflict is the root cause.

But, you suspect there was more at play. So, try to find out. Wait a week--when things have calmed down and you're not angry. (Or at least, less angry.) Then call your former boss and say, "I understand that we had a few personality differences and I understand that contributed to your decision to terminate me. However, I would like to understand all the reasons behind your decision. I'm interested in moving on in my career and I don't wish to make the same mistakes again. Will you help me to understand what I can do to improve myself as an employee as I move on?"

Say this calmly. Perhaps write it down and read it. (I would probably start crying--so I'm definitely not saying it would be easy.) My wimpy side would say e-mail it, but your former boss probably doesn't want anything documentable.

Be prepared for a barrage of all your faults--real and imagined. If you truly want to know, just let her talk and take notes. If you just want someone to scream at about the unfairness of it all, skip the phone call.

But, you must also be prepared for a boss that doesn't want to talk. She doesn't have to. You're an at will employee and the official reason for firing can be, "because I wanted to." Most people like to hear themselves talk, though, so you'll probably get some information. Especially if you couch it in terms like, "what did I do wrong?" and "help me improve." Not, "why on earth did you fire me? I'm brilliant!" Which, of course, you are.

You may find out some very interesting information this way. It may help you correct flaws in your own personality. Or it may just make you glad you are gone from that job.

For other people who currently have personality conflicts with their bosses, you may want to start looking for something new. It's just always better to work with people you get along with.

Again, I'm so sorry you lost your job. I hope all goes well for you.

Sincerely,

Evil HR Lady

1 comment:

mk said...

I was fired two days ago. And the thing that is keeping me up at night is not knowing why. I wrote to my supervisor and very politely inquired why. I also asked a former co-worker friend. Both have ignored my emails.

If feels terrible, because every time I asked my direct supervisor how I was doing, they said I was doing fine. I thought I was doing a good job too, and now I am paranoid that whatever I did wrong I will do wrong in my next job.

I wish they would just tell me....