Should I Quit or Wait to Get Fired – Ask #HR Bartender

I’m sure the thought has crossed many people’s minds – is it better to quit or get fired? That’s what today’s reader wants to know.

I am going through a work suspension while been investigated for fraud in terms of ordering goods from a supplier which I was not entitled. I am guilty of the offence and will be dismissed from my employment. I just want to know would it be better for me to resign now before I go through all the meetings?

Honestly, I can’t really directly address this reader’s situation. They admit what they did was wrong. And now they have to face the consequences. But it does raise a good point about whether it’s better to quit or get fired. I thought that was worth discussing.

I reached out to Kate Bischoff, JD, SPHR, an employment attorney with the firm of Zelle LLP. Kate has helped us with other questions – this post about sending an invoice to a former employee is one of my favorites.

And just a reminder, Kate’s comments should not be construed as legal advice or as pertaining to any specific factual situations. If you have detailed questions, they should be addressed with your friendly labor attorney.

Kate, what’s the advantage to resigning (versus being fired)?

[Bischoff] In a situation like the reader’s, it is common for folks to wonder if it is better to quit or get fired. If you resign, you get to have some ‘control’ over how you discuss the situation with future employers. The employee can say, I decided to leave after I learned I shouldn’t have done XYZ with an explanation of why XYZ was done. Provided the answer is truthful, the employee owns what happened and made the right decision for themselves.

On the flip side, is there an advantage to getting fired?

[Bischoff] There is one big advantage for being fired – unemployment benefits. In most states, if an employee is terminated for almost anything but gross misconduct, an employee may be eligible for unemployment benefits. While not a full replacement of salary, it can ease the blow of becoming suddenly unemployed.

(If you want to know about unemployment insurance benefits in your state, the Department of Labor has a webpage that can get you started.)

For years, there’s been a stigma associated with being fired. In today’s business world, we talk about failure more openly. I wonder if the same stigma exists. When it comes to future employment, are there any aspects of being fired that a person should worry about?

[Bischoff] Heck, even Lee Iacocca and Steve Jobs were fired! We’ve all goofed up even though we may not all have been fired. No one likes to be fired, and no one enjoys explaining why they were fired. But I agree the stigma is not as prevalent as it once was. If you can frame the termination as a lesson learned, there’s value in that. For example, if someone was fired for transmitting a Social Security Number over the interwebs in violation of information security protocol, my bet is they have learned their lesson. The individual can describe how they would act differently and articulate the reasons to have such security in place. A prospective employer may appreciate how the candidate handled the situation and learned from their mistake. However, if no lesson was learned and no explanation was given, then they’ll likely move on to the next candidate.

As an HR pro, I’ve seen several situations where a person isn’t a good fit – they know it and the company knows it. So instead of getting fired, an exit strategy is negotiated. What are the advantages and disadvantages to this approach?

[Bischoff] The advantage is transparency! Everyone understands what is going on. In some cases, even co-workers understand what is happening, decreasing the likelihood that morale will be affected long-term. Projects can be handed off with little-to-no disruption, and the employer can find the right fit without going through the motions of a lengthy termination process.

When the pending separation isn’t transparent, the affected employee may search for a reason why they are not a good fit. They could settle on their membership in a protected class or on blowing the whistle as the possible reasons, sparking a lawsuit. This can be very costly for an organization in both time and money.

The disadvantage is this type of exit can be costly too, involving a separation payment in exchange for a release of claims. However, such a payment could cost less than litigation. In addition, with no litigation, no depositions, no significant time spent with lawyers, the amount of time saved is significant.

If a person is trying to decide which approach is best for them, are there a couple of things they should ask themselves?

[Bischoff] I recommend employees consider two things:

(1) How do you intend to explain the situation to future employers? And,

(2) Would you be eligible for unemployment benefits?

Balancing these two considerations will help make the decision. If you really need some temporary income while you find another job, then ask to be terminated. When asked about a terminated employee in a reference check, it is pretty likely that the terminating employer will only give dates of employment and job title. If you want to be the one making the decision and explaining it as your decision, then quit. Tough decisions, but necessary.

I totally agree that there are some very tough decisions on whether it’s better to quit or get fired – for employees and employers. My thanks to Kate for sharing her experience with us. Be sure to follow her on Twitter and check out the Zelle blog, “The Employment Law Navigator.” Hopefully, this isn’t a situation that occurs regularly but it is good to know the nuances of voluntary and involuntary terminations to make an informed decision – regardless of what side of the table you’re on.

Image taken by Sharlyn Lauby in the Wynwood District of Miami

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