How to Deal

Walking the Line

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By Lily Garcia
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, December 13, 2007; 12:00 AM

I had an unfortunate situation occur at my place of employment over the last few weeks that left my employer with no choice but to "terminate" me. Due to my time and performance during my employment with them they gave me the opportunity to hand in a resignation letter, which I did. This has now raised two issues: One, will I be able to collect unemployment, and what can I say to prospective employers?

DLLR is trying to deny benefits due to the fact that I chose "resigned in lieu of termination" which was the choice on the online form that best suited my situation. I was given no severance, nor did I give two weeks [notice]. In fact, I was forced to leave the building immediately after collecting my belongings. If I wouldn't have submitted a resignation letter, it would certainly be deemed "termination."

Also, what would you suggest as a safe response to a prospective employer as to why I left? Any suggestions would be appreciated.

In my experience, it is possible to walk the fine line between termination and resignation and still gain access to unemployment benefits. The key seems to be to convey to the unemployment agency that you resigned under duress, not just "in lieu of termination," and to get your former employer to endorse your version of events.

In other words, you need to make the agency understand that you were fired and the fact that you were permitted to tender a letter of resignation is simply window dressing on a very straightforward situation. All of the circumstances of your departure as you have recounted them to me reinforce that view. But you also need to call your HR department to make sure that they are prepared to back up your story. They will receive paperwork from the unemployment agency requesting that they weigh on what happened, so you need to make sure that they will not contest what you say. Unless someone is flatly lying, it is rare for an employer to challenge an application for unemployment.

Now the other part of your tight-wire act becomes what you say to prospective employers. Tell them that you resigned. You should tell them this because that is the value of the symbolic opportunity given to you by your former employer. If your former employer allowed you to submit a letter of resignation, then surely they expect you to spin your departure this way to ease your transition into your next job.

You do not have to worry about being discredited in this regard when a prospective employer calls to check your references. You should, however, make sure that someone at your former place of employment is available to provide a positive reference, regardless of what might have precipitated your departure. You also need to be prepared to explain your decision to leave in sensible terms that do not disparage your former employer in any way.

For further guidance on job hunting with a termination on your record, read: Interviewing When You've Been Fired, (post.com, Oct. 19, 2006).

Join Lily Garcia on Tuesday, Dec. 18 at 11 a.m. ET for How to Deal Live.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail hradvice@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered. The information contained in this column is not intended to be legal advice.


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