I worked at a retail store (big company, locations in multiple countries) for a couple of years as a low level employee. I was eventually promoted to supervisor. I remained in that position for roughly two years. I was planning on continuing moving as far up the management ladder as possible.

I was accused of "harassing" a fellow employee. The incident in question never happened. I talked to the employee I was accused of harassing and this person says he has never filed a complaint and has no idea why they'd think that.

When I was confronted about the incident, they tried to get me to sign a document admitting guilt. I refused. Then I was fired.

I am currently pursuing legal action against the company, but it's a slow process.

For what it's worth, I filed a sexual harassment complaint against the manager who fired me a few months previously. Nothing came of this.

I'm looking for work, but I don't know how to explain why I was fired during interviews. In the one interview I've had so far, I was very honest about the situation, including that I was pursuing legal action against the company. The interviewer seemed receptive and understanding, but I ended up not getting the job.

I have several people from my old job, both peers and subordinates, who are willing to provide me with good references.

What's the best way to explain that I was wrongfully terminated in an interview?

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    Something to consider is that if a company hears you are pursuing legal action against a former employer this may be a red flag that they wouldn't tell you in the interview as this could be similar to bad mouthing a former workplace that would be a red flag.
    – JB King
    Commented Oct 24, 2013 at 14:21
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    @JBKing I was worried about that. I was very careful to not sound like I was bad mouthing the company, but I was worried that if I didn't mention that I was pursuing legal action it would look like I was lying about the "wrongful" part.
    – Rachel
    Commented Oct 24, 2013 at 14:24
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    You shouldn't have talked to the accusing employee. They may have told you they didn't report anything to terminate the conversation as quickly as possible. If they had filed a complaint, the company may have told them to avoid you. Commented Oct 24, 2013 at 15:47
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    @Dunk Job applications often explicitly ask if I was fired/terminated.
    – Rachel
    Commented Oct 25, 2013 at 8:45
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    @Rachel:I wouldn't lie about being terminated but I would certainly do everything I can to avoid bringing up the words "harassment" and "lawsuit" also. Apparently you and your manager had some issues and I would give the impression that was the underlying reason and I would also find a way to throw in how even though I think the manager was wrong, I can see my part in the problem and I have learned from this and would handle in a more professional manner in the future. Somehow turn that negative into something positive.
    – Dunk
    Commented Oct 25, 2013 at 14:31

4 Answers 4


Rachel - the original question was about "how to respond during an interview" and you seem to have some meaningful comments about that part so far.

But now, the question seems to have veered a bit toward "When I submit an application (not a resume, not an interview), they specifically ask 'Were you fired or terminated from a job?' How should I respond in that case."

My harsh answer is that I firmly believe it is never in your best interest to lie during the application process. Thus you must answer "Yes", if Yes and No are your only choices. If you have the ability to amplify on your answer within the application, you should, using the explanations you provided in your question, without trying to slam the previous employer too harshly.

Here's my reasoning:

  • Your professional reputation is valuable and important. If you lie and are caught, your reputation will suffer. I consider that bad.
  • Your personal character may suffer. Once you start lying, it's hard to keep the lies straight and it's hard to stop. That would bother me personally.
  • It's a small world out there. While it may seem unlikely, I've encountered cases personally, where people have lied on their resume, then got caught due to a co-worker who either worked with them previously (in one case), or a relative of a co-worker who knew the true story (in another case). Both liars were fired for cause.

I suspect you will be able to find a situation where you can be honest about your situation, yet still get an interview and a job. I suspect you will either find a job application that doesn't ask the tough question, a job application that let's you expand beyond just a Yes/No answer, or a situation where the company is willing to interview you and hear your side of the story.

If you were my sister, I would advise you to keep your integrity and not demean yourself by lying. That said, the choice is clearly yours to make.


There is really no good way to persuade a potential employer that you were indeed wrongfully terminated.

You say: "They fired me because of harassment accusations which were completely false."

They think: Sure, that's what everyone says who harasses people at work.

You say: "I am currently pursuing legal action against the company."

They think: Is that a threat? Does that mean she will also file a lawsuit against us when we ever fire her?

They say: "We will consider you."

They think: Please leave, and keep your hands and your lawyers where we can see them.

I would rather describe the reason for your termination as a misunderstanding which lead to a damaged trust relationship between you and your employer, so you mutually decided that it's best for everyone when you search for new employment opportunities.

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    I agree with this. It might sound cynical but it's really not, especially the part about suing the company. Unless the position you're applying for receives very few applications or you are by far one of the most qualified people for it, I can't imagine that an employer would hire someone who is currently suing their former employer, it's just not worth the risk. Commented May 31, 2015 at 15:39

I would not provide any more information than I absolutely had to. I would respond to the question of why I left with something bland like, "The position was not the right fit for me and I am looking for something with real growth opportunity." It is not a lie and it avoids talking about the legal action.

A Company can not discriminate against you because of the suit but they can find plenty of other reasons not to hire you. Some people make a career out of finding a job so that they can find a reason to sue their employer. Employers do their best to avoid hiring those types of people. And while I do not think that you are that type of person, having sued one company gives another company reason to think(rightly or not) that you would do it again. You do not have to disclose this information and you are better off not sharing it with a prospective or even current employer unless you are required to do so.

When interviewing focus on the good things at the previous job and what you learned that will make you a better employee for your next position. Avoid talking badly about any of the people or the company. If you are willing to bad mouth your previous company then you are probably willing to bad mouth the company you are applying too. You should only convey that you appreciated the opportunities that the position provided and are looking forward to your next position.

  • The thing is, a lot of applications (remember, this is retail work; I'm submitting applications, not resumes) ask explicitly if I was terminated/fired from a job.
    – Rachel
    Commented Oct 25, 2013 at 8:42

I'm currently in a somewhat similar situation; (first time ever terminated, in 40+ years working); I respond: "Unexpectedly terminated--can discuss at interview". Also, I include very positive letters of reference from previous immediate supervisors at same position. All the best to you; hopefully, things are coming together, for you.


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