I Think I’m About to Get Fired. What Should I Do? (Part I)

Advice, Surviving Workplace Investigations
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One of the most frequent calls we get at the firm is from people who believe they are about to be fired.

Usually, things have not been going well at work. The call comes from human resources about a meeting. The invite list indicates that human resources and your boss will be there.

It doesn’t take much detective work to figure out what the meeting will be about. The axe is about to fall; you are going to be fired.

Understandably panicked, these folks call us wondering how they should handle the meeting.

Here is what we usually tell someone who is about to be fired. (In a second part to this post, I will talk about more problematic issues that can arise in these meetings.)

1. Go to the meeting.

Do not to try duck the meeting or handle it over e-mail. It’s an opportunity for you to collect information. Yes, this will be uncomfortable for you. But do the best you can to put emotions aside. This is all about business.

2. Don’t quit!

I know that pulling the trick where you break up with someone before he or she breaks up with you might be appealing here. But in most cases, you do not want to quit before you get fired. In most instances, quitting will leave you worse off than if you were fired. Strange, but true.

3. Listen.

This is an opportunity for you to collect information. When you are in the meeting, listen closely to what your boss or human resources is saying. Write listenit down, because you may be too emotional to remember it all later. Your company is not required to provide you a reason for your
termination, but it sometimes will. And later, if the lawyers get involved, that reason might change. This could be gold for your case. Give your boss enough rope to hang himself with.

4. Keep your mouth shut.

This is not the time to tell your boss what a jerk he is, as tempting as that might be. Your job is to say as little as possible. I mean, pleasantries (if there are any) are fine. You don’t have to be mute. Just avoid saying anything of substance if you can help it. If the human resources rep keeps asking substantive questions or is trying to conduct an exit interview, say that you want time to collect your thoughts. Offer to set up a call for another time (a call that you may or may not actually participate in).

5. Do not take company property.

We often see folks who, understanding thfile-sat they are about to be fired, take, for instance, a zip drive and download a bunch of company files. Don’t do it. For reasons that I won’t get into here, that may actually hurt your case. Leave company property alone. (The only exception is if there is a smoking gun document that could make or break your case. Then you might want to take it. But don’t show it to anyone other than your attorney.) This also means leaving behind the company laptop, cell phone, whatever. Certainly, do not destroy anything. Don’t pour glue on your keyboard, take the wheels off your chair, or pull any other creative prank that your company might deserve. Really. It will feel good in the moment, but it could come back and bite you later.

6. Do not sign anything.

In rare instances, a company will pressure you to sign a severance. Signing a severance without significant consideration is generally a bad idea. Agreeing to a severance usually involves giving up important rights. If you are 40 or over, you may be entitled to 21 days to consider your agreement. If you’re handed a severance agreement, put it away and look it over later. What if they pressure you to sign by offering you a take-it-or-leave-it deal? In most cases, you are better off leaving it. Such pressure tactics may mean that the company is afraid of liability and so is pressuring you to sign away your rights. Chances are good that you can get that same deal, or even better, if you negotiate later.

7. Do not try to negotiate.

Unless you are an unusually good negotiator, this is not the best time to try to negotiate terms. Save negotiations for a later date when you are not, literally, in the company’s territory.

Once you’ve done all of this, you now have time to evaluate your next move. Take the time to read up on severance agreements, do a bit of self-help research, and, my favorite—go see a lawyer to assess the strength of your negotiating position.

Read the next post to take a deeper dive into some of these issues and to learn how to handle some more difficult issues that arise in the you’re-going-to-get-fired meeting.