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I have recently been in a fight with the management team of my company. After that incident, the company accussed me of stealing proprietary information, and made me take a few paid days off while they "investigate" the issue. They are calling me in and have scheduled a meeting between myself, the management team, and the legal council. In the meantime they have slandered my character among my co-workers while the "investigation", which is a witch-hunt according to my co-workers, is still on-going.

I am 100% sure they can't find any evidence of wrongdoing, but I am also sure I don't want to stay at this company. However, I want to leave in a "clean" way. I don't want to have a record that I was fired for cause.

My questions are

  1. If they insist that I am fired for cause, what can I do, and how do I fight for myself?

  2. Will the fact that I was fired for cause be visible to my future employers?

  3. What kind of legal paperwork should I expect, if I am terminated? Just to get an idea so I know what I should expect. Do I get a different set of paperwork if I resign?

My company is in New York State, United States.

  • 39
    Bring a lawyer to the meeting – HLGEM Aug 7 '12 at 14:20
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    What country? Your legal protections are based on national laws. – mhoran_psprep Aug 7 '12 at 14:50
  • @mhoran_psprep my company is in New York State – Vendetta Aug 7 '12 at 15:03
  • What do you mean with record? It is not like your new employer sees the HR file? And IFF they were asked for reference they may slip a comment anyway (i don't know your laws, in some countries it is AFAIK prohibited to say anything else but yes, worked here…) – Ulrich Dangel Aug 7 '12 at 15:16
  • @Chad I'd disagree. Sure some legal council is recommended, but I think The Workplace can provide answers to #2 and #3, and should be able to provide a decent place to start for #1. – Rachel Aug 7 '12 at 15:29
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If they insist that I am fired for cause, what can I do, and how do I fight for me?

You get a good lawyer who specializes in employment law. Try to find one who has worked on the other side(for big businesses). This is probably going to cost you money but getting a lawyer now will probably save you in the end. If you are in the right then hopefully you can end up with a settlement that will cover your costs. If you do not get one now and this goes forward(I would assume it will) your costs will go up and your chance of recovery will go down.

Is the fired for cause visible to my future employers?

That will depend on the policies of your employer. Most companies in the US are willing to confirm your employment and if you are eligible for rehire. Some companies are willing to go further. I know of no law that prohibits an employer from sharing its opinion of you.

What kind of legal paperwork do I usually get, if I am terminated? Just to get an idea so I know what I should expect. Do I get a different set of paperwork if I resign?

Unless you get sued your company will provide you with as little documentation as it can get away with. This information can be used against it so I would expect that you will only get information if they sue you. And they will drag their feet in producing anything more than the bare minimum of documentation to support it. This is why you need a lawyer. The lawyer will know what documents you will be entitled to and can ask the important questions up front before it gets to the courts. Hopefully preempting any proceedings against you and building a case for recovery for you.

In the law it is often not the truth that matters but how the evidence can be presented. You can be right and still lose big. You need a lawyer and you need one now.

  • 2
    Good stuff. I'd add to it that in larger companies, there is also often a third party monitored conflict resolution process. It's usually a tiered process (not unlike tech support) where you can bring your cause and have mediation handled by an impartial third party. When this service exists, it may be something you want to try in parellel with or before you call the lawyer as the process is free, but the lawyer costs you money. The lawyer, however, is fully on your side, so may be more of an advocate. – bethlakshmi Aug 7 '12 at 15:48
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    " I know of no law that prohibits an employer from sharing its opinion of you." Giving any opinion or "going farther" as you put it is a VERY rare practice because if you give a glowing recommendation, and the person ends up being terrible, you can be sued by the other company. If you instead trash an ex employee, or really say anything at all and they do not get the job, then they can sue you for damaging their reputation/slander/causing them to lose a job opportunity. It's sad, but that's the state of the world. – acolyte Aug 7 '12 at 16:00
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    Companies look to your performance in the past with other companies as an indication of expectation for future performance. So even if you give your coworkers by name they may want to talk with the company to verify. Sometimes in a background check they will need to get an official response from your employer. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 7 '12 at 16:40
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    Another reason to get a lawyer is that being fired means they can deny you unemployment. A lawyer might negotiate with them to agree to lay you off instead to avoid an expensive lawsuit. – HLGEM Aug 7 '12 at 18:06
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    BTW not being eligible for rehire is effectively HR Speak for we do not recommend you hire said person. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 7 '12 at 19:45
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If you primary concern is that the current employer will attempt in some way to blacken your reputation then you need to bring in a lawyer now.

In my experience -- as someone with an MS in Human Resources -- HR representatives are likely to negotiate more favorably for you if you have a lawyer because they are terrified of an employee with a lawyer. A principal purpose of HR is to prevent lawsuits.

Spend a thousand dollars now, bring in a lawyer to negotiate a written agreement concerning your departure from the present position. This will be much cheaper than waiting until you've been fired and later found out that this employer is hurting you professionally.

If unemployment insurance is a possibility issue speak to whichever state agency handles unemployment compensation for New York.

States administer these programs. In Texas the Workforce Commission has a good record of standing up to employers who try and treat terminated employees unfairly.

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