What You Should Ask an Employer When You're Fired

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Getting fired or laid off from your job can be very stressful. Your first instinct may be to leave as soon as possible. But before you move on, you need information. Ask the right questions of your employer when you’re fired, and your next steps will be much easier.

It's important to find out precisely why your employment is being terminated, if there are any steps you can take to have the decision reversed, and what compensation you might be entitled to receive following the firing.

Questions to Ask When You’ve Been Fired

After you've been fired or laid off, the conversation with your employer will depend on the circumstances surrounding your termination, in addition to your personal and professional goals.

You will want to find out how losing your job is going to affect you immediately, as well as in the longer term. Be prepared to ask about severance pay, unemployment, and what information will be shared with potential employers.

Here are a few questions to ask:

Why Was I Let Go?

If you’re covered by an employment or union contract, you should ask why you were terminated. Your goal will be to learn whether the reason they give counts as legitimate grounds under the terms of the contract. On the other hand, if you are employed at will, the employer will not be required to furnish a rationale for your firing.

Most U.S. workers are employed at will. This means that their employers can fire them for any non-discriminatory reason, or no reason at all.

However, most supervisors will be willing to discuss at least general reasons for the decision. Performance and restructuring are two of the most common reasons for an employee's termination.

Can I Appeal?

In some cases, you may be able to appeal their decision. If you want to keep your job, there’s no reason not to ask. You may wish to do so in writing in the form of an appeal letter. This outlines the reasons for your request and makes it easier to build your case.

Even if you don't have contractual protections, most employers have a policy manual that underscores the conditions under which an employee can be terminated. An explanation for your firing may give you the opportunity to contest it but could also give you insight into how you can improve your work habits for a future job.

If your employer has referenced a shortcoming of yours as grounds for your firing and you believe that you can address the concern over time, you might ask if you could be placed on probation instead of being terminated immediately. You can explain that you would aggressively address the weakness during the probationary period and would appreciate re-evaluation after that time.

Can I Resign Instead of Being Fired?

You may want to ask if you would be allowed to resign instead of being let go if you want to avoid the stigma of a firing. However, if your employer agrees, you may jeopardize your eligibility for unemployment payments. So, you might also want to ask your employer if they would agree not to contest any claim that you make for unemployment if you resign.

What Does the Company Disclose During Reference Checks?

If your employer agrees to a resignation, you might ask for a letter of recommendation. You should also ask how the company will handle any inquiries about your tenure with the organization. Find out if they will simply share dates of employment like some organizations do, or if they will give the reason for your departure.

What About Severance, Vacation Pay, and Benefits?

You should also inquire about any severance pay, compensation for unused vacation, sick time, and benefits. Make sure you ask what steps you need to take to secure any compensation and to continue your health insurance coverage. Ask about your pension and 401k so that you understand any company rules governing those accounts.

Tips for Coping With Job Loss

In addition to asking the right questions, be prepared to take these steps:

Get Your Computer Files

If you haven't backed up any personal computer files on your office computer. This is something you should always do. You can ask for the opportunity to retrieve any important documents.

Depending on the circumstances, you may not be allowed access to your files once you have been notified of your termination.

Always keep your files backed up, or better yet, away from your work computer entirely. It would be unfortunate to lose everything in the event of an unexpected change in your employment situation.

Keep It Professional

During the conversation, resist the temptation to lash out at your employer or any of your colleagues. Any satisfaction you derive will be fleeting, but your words will be remembered. Remember that many industries are small worlds. You don’t want to provide fodder for gossip that might follow you to your next job.

Try to leave on a positive note, making your closing impression one of steady good judgment.