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Legal Speak

Getting Fired? Beat Your Boss to the Punch

Published October 2, 2013 10:51 AM by Tony DeWitt
One of the most frequent questions I get from people when they learn I'm a lawyer is "what do I do if I know I'm going to get fired?"

Let me be clear: lawyers are problem solvers. We fix problems after they happen. We rarely are able to stop something that is already in play, for example, a plan by your boss to send you packing. While Hollywood and television have imbued lawyers with magical qualities on the order of a Marvel Comics superhero, for the most part, we're just professional men and women who have toolbox designed to fix or repair a given set of problems.

The one piece of advice I always give people if they think their head is on the chopping block is "beat them to the punch." If you know you're likely to get fired, save your boss the time and stomach trouble, and do it for him. Go find another job, and do it quickly. It is ten times easier to find a job while you have one then after you've been fired. It is much better to tell a prospective employer you're looking because you aren't being challenged enough in your current job, than it is to say "well, they basically fired me." No prospective employer wants someone else's problems.

"But won't they fire me if they know I'm looking?"

Sure they will, but generally, they won't find out until you already have another job and someone calls for a reference. In that situation they may be so happy to learn you're going somewhere else that they give you a glowing reference.

If your boss has to fire you, then there is at least a chance he'll have to pay unemployment for you. But if you move on to another job, that risk is obviated. So it is in your supervisor's best interest to give you a good recommendation and let you make the transition. Only a really stupid boss gives a troublesome employee a bad reference when that employee is still employed.

When they've fired that employee, in most cases the only reference they will give is "yes, she worked here from 2009 to 2013 and she's not eligible for rehire." That last phrase, "not eligible for rehire," is code for "we fired her." That's why it's important to have a good reference from someone you worked with, but not necessarily for, during your employment.

Ted supervises the day shift, Marsha supervises the evening shift. They see each other frequently and are acquainted with the work of each other. When Marsha goes looking for a new job, she knows that her direct supervisor won't give her a good reference, so she uses Ted. Of course, she clears that with Ted first and she makes sure to mention she'll return the favor. She also uses Ted's personal cell phone, not his work number, as the contact point.

posted by Tony DeWitt

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About this Blog


    A.L. "Tony" DeWitt, RRT, CRT, JD, FAARC
    Occupation: Attorney
    Setting: Jefferson City, Mo.
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