I was fired unexpectedly under the explanation of “I didn’t like your production last month, or attendance”. This was 4 days after my then coworker became appointed manager of our department (of two people). The month before her promotion, the approval for her position didn’t exist but she had permission from HR to announce to me she was now my manager. We hadn’t had any oversight or a boss of any sort for 8months. This meant no feedback, and being project based as long as objectives were met on time we didn’t have a production count or way to track it. My coworker had always given me nothing but positive feedback.
I had schedule adjustments since the day I started working with this coworker, as I did at my last company of 10 years, for an ADA protected disability where I would work alternative or telecommute hours for appointments. When my coworker announced she was in charge she took away my accommodations explaining that because she couldn’t do that I couldn’t. I ended up having to apply through HR again for an ADA accommodation including invasive documentation from my Drs but it wasn’t addressed in the weeks before my term. On the day I was terminated I had called out sick after a month of inability to make my regularly scheduled medical appointments – my health had deteriorated.
It gets better… this coworker happens to be a very outspoken homophobic. She regularly dispensed those or racist or controversial political topics, it was just something we shrugged off in our department. I’m gay. Since the second week of my employment I knew there was no way I could be open and after claims about gays being pedophiles, work became emotionally difficult. At one point I did let the manager we did have for a few months know but begged her not to go to HR because I was terrified of my coworker finding out. She did go to HR, asked if she needed to do anything and they said no.
When my coworker told me she was my boss I went home and had a thorough mental breakdown and the next day went to her directly with my concerns about being gay and how we could work together within that. The conversation was productive. We didn’t discuss our beliefs but merely philosophy on keeping personal and professional stuff separate. However, two weeks after that I was gone. Anyway, this has all come down to an EEOC charge. I feel like not only am I gay and disabled, I’m now litigious and have a blemish on my employment from being fired. How can I possibly address this in an interview? My term is being researched, I’m already uncomfortable enough being one of “those employees” and it feels like I’ll never get a job. I’ve never had this sort of experience my life I’ve never felt discriminated against and I shrug a lot of things off. Any thoughts?
First of all, I’m super surprised that HR signed off on your termination. Yes, I constantly preach that HR is never the boss and you can always override them, but in cases like this, a competent HR person would say, “You pulled back her previously approved accommodations under ADA, she got sick, and now you want to fire her? That’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.” And, I know you’re working with the EEOC, but I think it would be worth your time to meet with an attorney on your own. NELA can refer you to an employment lawyer, and read this about what to expect when you meet with an attorney.
Okay, now what? Let’s address all your issues individually.
Gay. Most people couldn’t give a flying fig. This shouldn’t come up in a job interview either. There shouldn’t be any references to your sexual orientation on your resume or cover letter. Unless you walk into an interview and say, “Hi! I’m Jane and I’m gay!” it shouldn’t be an issue in a job hunt.
And I say it shouldn’t, but it can be. In some states, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is illegal, but in some states it’s still legal. Most large companies have non-discrimination policies in place and most really believe it. But, are there individuals who won’t hire you because you’re gay? Of course there are. Will they tell you that’s why they aren’t hiring you? No.
If you want to lessen the chances of being discriminated against on the basis of your sexual orientation, the best you can do is make sure your public information doesn’t mention it. Do I think you should do this? No. While your LGBT club membership doesn’t belong on your resume (and neither does 99 percent of other clubs), you don’t want to be hired by someone who would have rejected you if she found out you were a member of such a group–because you’ll end up in the same situation you’re in now. But, honestly, this is the least of your worries!
Disabled. I don’t know if your disability is visible, but if it’s not, then this shouldn’t be an issue in the hiring process either. I mean, if you’re in a wheelchair, that’s going to be pretty obvious, but if you have a heart condition that requires regular doctor appointments and a close parking spot, it shouldn’t really matter. But, it is critical (since you need some accommodations) that you bring up that you need these. But not during the interview.
The right time to bring up accommodations that you need is during the negotiation phase. So, after they offer you a job, you say, “Thank you so much for the offer. I’m really excited about it and anxious to get to work! But, I need to discuss a few things. I have a disability that qualifies under the Americans with Disabilities Act and I need a couple of pretty easy accommodations. First, blah, blah, blah. Second, blah, blah, blah. Will that be problematic?”
Now, the reason you bring this up in the negotiation phase and not before is so that they can’t reject you on the basis of your disability. If they pull the offer at this point, you’ll have a case against them and they know it. Now, of course, it is possible that the accommodations you need are not reasonable for this job. So, if you need to work from home it’s not reasonable to work as a cashier in a grocery store. That’s just not going to work. If you’re an accountant, it’s much more likely to be reasonable.
Now, if your disability is visible, it’s going to be more difficult, as you already know. Prejudices exist, absolutely. Don’t come in being confrontational, though. Just assume that people are good people until you learn otherwise.
Litigious. You’re right to be concerned about this. Companies don’t like to hire people who have sued previous employers–because if you’ve sued in the past, they assume you’ll sue in the future. There are some people out there who are easily offended and sue for everything, which is an expensive pain in the patootie. So, their position isn’t irrational. That said, your lawsuit is pretty run-of-the-mill and (assuming your name on your email address is your real name) I googled you and found nothing other than the picture that accompanied your email and a cat video. I don’t know if that’s your cat video or not, but it was cute.
My point is, even when I added EEOC or lawsuit, nothing came up. No company (unless security clearance is required) is going to go scour court records. Chances are they won’t know. This is especially true for right now–lawsuits are slow, slow, slow. In 3 years it might be more of an issue than it is now.
Recently Fired. This is your biggest concern. Employers assume that if you’ve been fired, it’s your fault. We all know that this is not true, but if I have two candidates in front of me–one who was fired and one who wasn’t–why take the risk? Most managers are terrible at hiring, and so they use the fired/not fired as a proxy for actually figuring out who the best candidate is.
It stinks. I say this as someone who has fired a lot of really great people. Well, laid them off, but some hiring managers don’t see a difference between the two. Regardless, you’ve been fired and you’ve got to explain. “Why were you fired?” is a question you need to answer. The problem is, the answer to that is, “My homophobic co-worker who resented the fact that I got flexibility because of my disability got promoted to be my boss and almost immediately terminated me. I’m suing.” Kind of negates all the previous advice, right?
So, you need to come up with an answer that is 1. true and 2. not inflammatory. How about something like this, “My co-worker and I never got along, so when she was promoted to be my boss, one of the first things she did was fire me. However, I’ve always received accolades for my work. In fact, here’s a copy of my last performance appraisal….” Or, “My previous boss is happy to give me a reference and you’ll be able to see that I can do A, B, C, and D.”
If you’ve applied for and been granted unemployment, that may be something else to mention, although in most cases you pretty much have to steal the office refrigerator to be denied unemployment.
As always, your best bet is to network your way into a job. Somebody who has worked with you before and recommends you will be your best bet. That person can say, “Jane? She’s awesome. Here’s why.” Hopefully, that will negate firing and others stuff.
No matter what, it’s not going to be super easy to be fired. It never is, but I wish you the best of luck on your job search.