I've got a tricky question for you hiring managers out there.  I was recently fired from my last job (wrongfully, I might add) for alleged sexual harassment.  I am in the process of obtaining legal counsel, but in the meantime I'm seeking reemployment.  My experience has been that most employers don't look favorably on such situations, so the question is - what DO I tell hiring managers while I work to clear my name?  My last employer has informed me that for future reference, they will only provide my length of service, position(s) and pay history. 


Thanks for any feedback! 


mattpalmer's picture

Fired, for one of the "biggies", and you're releasing the hounds.  That's the trifecta!

Firstly, a caveat: You've got to tell the substantive truth, because although your company officially might not tell a reference checker what happened, it could come out in a myriad of other ways, and even if they get a version of the truth favourable to you, the circumstances plus the fact you lied about it will sink you pretty much every time.

Now, on to the meat.  If you've listened to the "Getting Fired" cast (part 1, part 2), you know to prepare two sentences that answers the question being asked, and then looks to the future.  Avoid innuendo (anything that sounds like it could be followed with "if you know what I mean" is going to get people both uncomfortable and curious in equal measure, neither of which you want).  Be straightforward, and then move on to the future.  In a scenario like this, I might say something like:

"I was fired for breaching the company's policies.  I've examined what I did to contribute to the situation, and I'm confident I'll be able to stay on track and contribute strongly in my next position."

A few things I wanted to write there, but didn't (and why):

  • "allegedly breaching". The word "allegedly" is widely recognised to be a weasel word, from the media's use of it to mean, "we think the bastard did it, but we don't want to get sued".  I don't think that using it here would strengthen your statement.
  • any euphemism for "fired", like "let go".  Everybody knows what the euphemisms mean, and they're translating it into "fired" in their heads.  Just own it.
  • "I'm fighting the termination".  Great, now you got fired and you're litigious.  I don't think I'm alone in running screaming from any candidate who thinks lawyers are a good idea.  Not because I don't think they occasionally are, but simply that I know that the moment legal action commences, everybody except the lawyers lose, and I'm not going to put myself or my organisation in the firing line just in case you're a vexatious litigant.
  • "... in my next position, while obeying all company policies".  While it might be nice to work in there something about how you're going to toe the line from now on, I couldn't work out how to fit it in there without putting it at the end and finishing on a downer.

You might take issue with the fact that I said, "I've examined what I did to contribute to the situation".  You may honestly feel like you are not at fault in any way.  I'm sorry to tell you, dudine, but I'm fairly certain your name didn't get picked out of a hat at random to be the goat.  Even if you made some incompetent bigwig look like the jackass he is, and so had something made up out of whole cloth to ruin your life, that's still within the realm of "what I did to contribute to the situation".  You definitely want to examine what you did to end up in that situation.  You also need to say something along those lines simply to reassure the interviewer that you're not just blindly moving on without having picked up something out of the experience.

In closing, I'd like to repeat something else from the "Getting Fired" cast -- don't get yourself down by assuming that interviewers will ask.  Plenty of interviewers don't care, and of those who do, the fact that some other place fired you doesn't mean much -- I prefer to take my own assessment on your fit for this job as important, rather than someone else's fit for some other job.

jhbchina's picture


What is your unemployment compensation status? Did you file? Did you have a hearing to get it benefts? Was it denied or approved so that  you are now receiving benefits?

These are critical precedents. 

In some states one cannot collect benefits if they were terminated with 'just cause' such as 'sexual harassment'. Hence if your state unemployment agency is giving you benefits and payments then you have already proved that it was a wrongful termination, and most importantly an official state agency has made a legal decision that it was a wrongful termination. So just say you were wrongful terminated and use the judgment of the unemployment verdict as evidence. Then move on quickly


JHB  "00"

cynaus's picture
Training Badge

Another awesome response from Matt. I can't think of anything to add there, he's wrapped it up well.

peter law's picture

If you think you have been wrongfully terminated, it's a good idea to seek the advice of an experienced lawyer. As well, a short statute of limitations may apply, so seek advice sooner than later. A wrongful termination lawsuit can be filed either with a government agency that enforces labor laws, or in a private lawsuit. If your employer's violation is related to a specific part of state or federal law, you might want to contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Occupational and Safety Hazards Administration, or your state's labor offices. If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated, you may have a right to bring a claim for Wrongful Termination against your former employer. Legal remedies that may be available to you include wrongful termination damages. If you haven't been officially terminated yet, an experienced wrongful termination attorney can help you negotiate an appropriate severance package that includes adequate compensation.