Do I have to disclose that I was fired?

by Evil HR Lady on April 15, 2016

I moved across the country for a new job. Everything they told me in the interview was a lie. I was abused and bullied to the point of medical issues and having to see a therapist. After inquiring about short-term disability medical leave, just today, I was fired from that job.

I was thinking about filing an EEOC complaint, but I’m so spiritually exhausted that I just want to move on now.

Legally, do I have to disclose that I was fired to future employers? Can I just say something like, “It was a bad fit” when they ask why I left?

First, I don’t blame you for just wanting to walk away. While some people feel the need to get legal justice, the reality is, filing a complaint is never an emotionally easy thing. If the EEOC takes your case it’s no guarantee that you’ll end up winning. A private attorney is the same thing–a long battle that’s emotionally and financially draining.

So, mostly, I think it’s a wise decision to just move on. File for unemployment and appeal if it’s denied, but letting it go after that is a rational choice.

Now on to your question–what do you have disclose? Well, on your resume, nothing. Since this job was a short one, you can even leave it off your resume if you wanted to. Remember, resumes are marketing documents not your life on a platter.

However, lots of companies ask you to fill out an application and those applications often ask two things: list all the jobs you’ve had in a certain time period and have you ever been fired from a job. You have to be honest here. Why? Because if you lie on this form and they find out, you’ll be eliminated from consideration and if it’s after you’re hired, you’ll be fired. Not a great thing. So, yes, you have to disclose it.

Your situation is tricky because of the medical leave request. While it’s illegal to discriminate against someone because of a disability or perceived disability, when you say, “I asked about short term disability and they fired me” you’re likely  to have interviewers concerned equally about the disability and the firing. The concern about your health is simply that when companies hire someone they want that person to work. If you’ve shown in the past that you need considerable time off for health reasons they’re concerned you’ll need it again. They shouldn’t do this, and I’d even argue that most of the discrimination that happens in this type of situation is subconscious, but it does happen.

So, while your previous company was absolutely horrible, pointing out just how horrible they were probably won’t get you anywhere good. So, I’d probably leave out the part about the medical leave request and go with the “bad fit.”

So, just as you proposed, talk about how it was a bad fit, and in the end they “let you go.” It might be tempting to talk about how awful they were, but it won’t serve you well in the job hunt.

Another thing you need to do is follow up with your former boss and the HR department to find out what they are going to say in a reference check. It’s in their best interest to not mention the disability application either as it’s like bragging, “Hey, we illegally discriminate!” But they may want to badmouth you in order to make themselves look better. While it’s perfectly legal to give a bad reference, that bad reference must be true.

My favorite employee side attorney, Donna Ballman, told me that she recommends clients hire a reference checking firm to find out what their previous employers are saying. In the past I’ve recommended using a friend, but Donna points out that a professionally documented reference check will hold up better in court. Now, I know you don’t want to go to court, but if they are giving a false reference, you will want to hire an attorney to send them a letter informing them that a false reference is illegal. Some reference checking firms will also provide this service. Usually a letter solves this.

On a side note, I never ever understand why hiring managers misrepresent jobs in the interviews. Be honest and you’ll get a better fit.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Annonymous April 15, 2016 at 2:57 pm

Alison, out of curiosity, why would you not recommend the same language that letter writers use when talking about past depression, something like, “I needed short term leave to take care of a medical issue that has since been resolved, but they fired me instead.”

I probably wouldn’t start with that, but “bad fit” is always followed up on by good interviewers and you need to have an answer that sounds reasonable and not squirrelly.

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Annonymous April 15, 2016 at 2:58 pm

Ack! Susan, Im sorry, I was mentally on the wrong blog.

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Evil HR Lady April 15, 2016 at 3:23 pm

I’m always okay with it when people mistake me for Alison Green. If only I could be as awesome and productive as she is!

And you could do your idea. No objections to that.

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Antonia Siemaszko April 15, 2016 at 7:42 pm

You are totally as awesome as she is. I read both your blogs religiously and you’re both amazing.

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Lauren April 17, 2016 at 2:34 am

+1 to this!

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Dr. Ross April 15, 2016 at 4:11 pm

Yep, fully agree. Get ahead of it and disclose…just be smart about it. I have a nephew who, due to a DUI, has to blow thru a tube to start his car. He GOT a job with a major media company who does full background checks AFTER hiring and he was freaking out. I advised him to go to the guy who chose him for the job and let him know, out of respect to the faith that he placed in him by choosing him, about the situation and sharing that he would rather walk away than put his new boss into, potentially, harms way.

His boss said no one had ever been up front with him and do so to protect him and he assured him that it would not be a problem.

Not only did he keep his job but he has been promoted twice in the last 12 months.

Have to believe that character, honesty and integrity still mean something but too often we let fear of potential loss rule the day.

Character is only put to the test when we are up against it.

Hard as it is, and will gnaw at you maybe for years, take the high road and don’t play the game of the willfully ignorant bullies who use abuse, fear and intimidation to get their way. It will catch them but you will sleep better at night if you let it go.

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