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Thursday, April 30, 2009

You Can't Quit, I'm Firing You!

Another guy and I, used to work for a "bad boss". You know the type - he will lie, cheat, steal, etc. if so inclined. This other guy quit, and after the "non-compete" period was up, he started his own "competing" company. His company grew enough to bring on additional help, and he offered me a job. I accepted his offer and turned in my notice to HR at the old company. A week later, this "bad boss" found out I was leaving to go work for this competing ex-employee and drummed up a number of bogus reasons to fire me and I was walked out 2 days earlier than planned.

I worked for the new employer for a year before the economy slowed down and I was laid off. My problem is in applying for new jobs. They ask "Have you ever been terminated? Explain". If I say "No" and they contact the "bad boss" company, will a "He was terminated" response make me look like a liar? If I say "Yes", what do I put for the "explain" when I was really terminated for planning to work for a competitor? Will the "potential employer" get my "bad bosses" bogus reasons for my "termination?

I find this to be a fascinating question, which kind of surprises me because on the surface it doesn't seem that exotic a question. After all, it's not like the kind that Dear Abby gets ("Dear Abby, my sister-in-law didn't sit next to me at a bridal shower. True, she arrived late, and there were no chairs next to me, but she should have made an effort. I was so angry, I poisoned her punch. Then I felt guilty and knocked it out of her hand before she could drink it. It stained her shirt. She says I should pay for the cleaning. I don't think I should. What do you think?")

Here's why I think it's interesting: I would say that you've never been terminated from a position. Lots of times employers don't want you working for them once they know you are going to a competitor. It's not uncommon for someone to hand in two weeks notice and be told that today will be their last day.

But, I think I'm wrong here. This situation is different in that they came up with reasons to terminate you, didn't terminate you upon your giving notice, and will (most likely) state you were terminated if anyone should happen to call them for a reference.

The problem with references is that you don't get a chance to defend yourself. (Usually.) I know most HR types are huge fans of references, but I think there are huge flaws in the whole reference system. After all, unless I know the person giving the reference, how do I know she's not a complete whacko? That's another reason why networking is a much better system for finding a job. But, I'm digressing.

Here's what I would write: "I received an offer to work for [x] (a direct competitor), and gave two weeks' notice. Company opted to terminate me prior to the notice period ending." That sounds accurate, right? Will it compensate for a scathing reference should they call your previous company? Probably not. (See above paragraph.)

The more critical question is, will your last boss (who just laid you off) give you a good reference? I think it shows your value as a worker when someone has recruited you like he did. I think it says a lot when someone says, "I not only like working with you, I like working with you enough to hire you myself."

Good luck with your job search. Hopefully all will go well and you'll be in a fancy new job soon.


Just another HR lady said...

Just so I have this clear in my head, you resigned and then during your resignation period you were fired?

Or...did they just pay out your resignation notice period rather than having you work out the time? (Many employers do this when you are going to a competitor)

I'm wondering if there might just be a misunderstanding here on the authors part about being terminated?

Anonymous said...

People do strange things. I was once "ordered" to turn in a letter of resignation from a boss who was crazy, to put it mildly. I think the paragraph that Evil's paragraph is good, but I would not ask for a reference from that job.

I'm not going to give more info about my personal case, as it goes to trial soon. But folks do strange things. I'd say in that situation I resigned.

peter said...

I think EHRL's advice is the way to go. I also agree with her points about the reference process, but most employers require them.

I would only add, don't give into the temptation to over explain the situation. Keep your explanation simple and to the point: I was terminated after resigning to work for a direct competitor. Only offer more if directly asked and avoid "bashing" the "bad boss".

Gene said...

Getting references without explicit written permission is illegal. I'd have a friend check my references and if the manager gave a bad one, consider suing him for defamation of character or business interference. A former manager has no right to interfere with your job search.

After all, maybe the manager is the one who should have been fired?

Anonymous said...

why do you have to give him as a reference? Is there a reference police that would know who your last managers were?

Ask a Manager said...

Gene, it's not illegal. Companies often ask for written permission as part of their job applications, but it's not illegal not to do so.

John said...

Yes, references can be flawed, some managers I worked for I wouldn't even ask them the time of day let alone for a job reference.

Applcants might be better to create profiles on say, Linkedin, and get recommendations. Everything is then out in the open and transparent.

Charlotte said...

Oh gosh! The same thing happened to me three days ago. I gave notice and then was fired the same day. My boss knew I had lined up a new job with the competition (he works in a building adjacent to their offices) and smirked at me: "Rumor travels quickly. This industry is a small world." The bogus reasons he made up are now threatening my security clearance. Nice, eh?