By Lily Garcia
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, May 21, 2008 5:45 PM
What is the most proper way to explain to a future employer that you were terminated wrongfully from your previous job and are seeking legal counsel currently?
Let's suppose you tell a prospective employer that you are thinking of suing your former employer. When they hear that, they might very well think twice about hiring you. To be sure, it is illegal for them to decide whether to hire you based upon your exercise of legally protected rights. However, how would you go about proving that that is what they did? They can always come up with valid, persuasive reasons why they passed on your application.
Don't say that you are consulting a lawyer regarding your termination. In fact, you ideally would not even have to disclose that you were fired. Oftentimes, an employer will soften the blow of a termination by agreeing to provide a neutral reference or adhere to a policy of verifying title and dates of employment only. But I am guessing that, if you are exploring the possibility of a lawsuit against this employer, then you were treated somewhat less charitably on your way out.
Assuming you have no choice but to say that you were fired because your former employer will tell it like it is, then you need to come up with a good explanation for what happened. You shouldn't wait for a prospective employer to find out on their own that you left your previous job involuntarily. Nor would I bring it up early in the interview process. When you sense that you are a serious candidate for the position (because you have been called for a second interview or you are otherwise getting positive feedback from the recruiter), it's time to raise the issue.
Let them know that, before you go any further, you need to explain the circumstances of your departure from your last job. Then, without disparaging your former employer, explain the value of your contributions to the organization and the reasons why you disagree with their decision to let you go. Hopefully you have other professional references who will enthusiastically recommend you, and this will lessen the significance of your immediate past employer's opinion. If at all possible, include among your references someone in a position of authority at your last employer who will endorse your version of events.
I don't mean to suggest that all of this is easy. Having to tell a prospective employer that you were fired from your last job does make it harder to persuade them that you are the right fit. If you polish your story, however, and arm yourself with strong references, you will have the best chance of overcoming this unfortunate hurdle.
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Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. We reserve the right to edit and publish 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.