The majority of states in the U.S. follow the doctrine of “at-will employment,” which means that an employer can terminate an employee at any time for any reason, except an illegal one, or for no reason, without incurring legal liability. Likewise, an employee is free to leave a job at any time for any or no reason with no adverse legal consequences. Even so, if your manager asks you to resign or offers you a choice between resigning and being fired, it is important for you to know your rights and understand your options, before you sign on the dotted line. Failure to do so might wind up costing you unemployment benefits, or result in other repercussions that could hinder your job search.
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- 1. Clarify why they are asking you to move on: If they haven’t warned you ahead of time and you did not see it coming, request clarification on why they’re asking you to quit. This is a question you should ask your employer/manager, even if you think you know the cause. You may or may not get the real reason behind the decision, but depending on the response, you can plan your next steps. Assuming it’s not for breaching company policy or code of conduct, you may be able to negotiate your terms of exit with the employer. Be sure to consult an employment lawyer before you sign any document.
- 2. Explore options to keep your job: Generally, the request to resign comes only after there’s been a lot of deliberation on the various options available. A reasonable employer would want to explore all options before asking a person to quit, but this may not be the case everywhere, so it wouldn’t hurt to offer possible solutions. If budget cuts are a reason, could you go on with a loss of pay for a period of time, or could you take a pay cut?
- 3. Retrace your steps: Have you complained about anybody at work or reported any irregularities? You will need to talk to a lawyer to help you if this is the case. If you are being asked to quit or are being terminated for illegal or wrongful reasons (discrimination, retaliation, etc.) then you have a much bigger issue to deal with.
- 4. Know your benefits: Unless and until you are terminated for cause, most state unemployment agencies provide unemployment benefits (depending on length of employment and other requirements) if the employer does not fight the claim application. Although not required to, employers may offer severance to employees being terminated if they’re willing to sign a “general release,” which releases the employer from any legal claims stemming from the employment. Also, in some special circumstances, as is stipulated in the Worker Adjustment and Notification Act, employees may be legally entitled to severance. However, if you choose to resign, you are ineligible to claim these benefits. The plus side is, you wouldn’t have to answer “yes” to any question from future employers about being fired in your previous job. So depending on your priorities, you could choose either option.
- 5. Negotiate even when you resign: You do not have great negotiating power, when you are going to lose your job either way – they fire you or you quit – but you might as well try and see if you can be paid severance, or request that your employer not protest your unemployment benefits claim. (Get this in writing if you can.) You could also negotiate with your manager so they do not sabotage your future opportunities with employers by stating reasons for termination – “termination for cause/misconduct/” vs. resignation. Also make sure you understand what they will communicate during reference checks. As Alison Green suggests at AOL, “Simply by asking, you might be able get your employer to describe your separation in neutral terms, or at least to only confirm dates of employment.” But make sure you discuss this with HR and your manager so they are consistent in their responses.
Whatever you do, make sure you deliberate on your response, and seek guidance before you sign on any document. Understand all your options and don’t be rushed to make your decision.
Disclaimer: The information shared herewith is for guidance only and should not be construed as legal advice. The websites and articles linked through this post are for informational purposes only. Please consult legal professionals/government resources for accurate interpretation and advice.
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