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I am wondering what the best answer is to a termination question at an interview. I was terminated due to what they allege as misconduct, which I won at my Unemployment Compensation Appeals Hearing.

I was the HR Administrator for my company. A female employee made several complaints against a male co-worker for harrassment and discrimination, which I had documented. I took these complaints to my supervisor and he agreed with the her regarding the behavior of this male employee, yet he did not do anything to address the situation. The female employee requested a meeting which these allegations were discussed. She also stated that she would pursue legal action against the company.

I discussed with my supervisor that there was documentation regarding her complaints and evidence to prove her case and the fact that we did not act upon it. I also stated that we would not be able to honestly defend our company. I was terminated for willful misconduct three days later.

It was a relief on my part, but as a HR administrator, I know that terminations of this sort are not highly looked upon. What is the best way to respond to this question?

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    I'm not sure there is a good answer other than "Be honest". If you've given us all the information (we don't know, obviously), then you were fired due to having done your job properly in a company which wanted to ignore the issue instead -- and it isn't even as if you did anything they could object to, you were just the bearer of bad news. Calmly tell the interviewer what you've told us (though I think you might be able to tighten it up some, deleting from "I took" through the end of that paragraph), and say that you can't think of any other reason. Shouldn't be a problem. – keshlam Oct 16 '14 at 15:14
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    @Jonast92, I think the circumstances are quite different. In the previous question, they most certainly did something fireable, and the answer is to be honest and remorseful. In KimC's situation, she believes that she was fired for trying to do the right thing. We always say not to badmouth your previous employer, so I think this is a valid question. – David K Oct 16 '14 at 15:42
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    @gnat Not a duplicate, because this was not a termination 'for a very bad reason'. – DJClayworth Oct 16 '14 at 16:19
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    Since you're an HR professional, I feel like we should be asking you this question. – user8365 Oct 16 '14 at 17:56
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This is tricky. On the one hand, you've done absolutely nothing wrong. On the other hand, you don't want to come across as the sort of disruptive employee who is going to cause trouble.

On your CV / Resume, you should just list the dates you worked. It's not usual to list the reason why you left.

During an interview, it is best to be honest. You don't need to explain every single detail of the incident, but you should emphasise the UCA findings.

For example "The UCA decided that I was unjustly fired because XYZ. As you can appreciate this was quite a traumatic experience and one I'm keen to put behind me."

  • To add to the "It's not usual to list the reason why you left" - I'd note that you may not even be asked why you left at all: I've regularly been asked why I want to leave my current position (presumably to determine if the new position is just an escape mechanism from my current one), but I've never once been asked to explain the details of a previous end of employment. In my experience, such a question is only asked if the employment period was unusually short (<1 year being typical, but can vary depending on the stage of your career) or if there was a significant gap in employment to note – Jon Story Feb 10 '15 at 15:10
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  1. Make sure that you collect references on your way out. They DON'T have to be your supervisor

  2. If asked at an interview, you can state that they alleged "willful misconduct" on your part when they terminated you, and you can (and should) add that they were unable to substantiate their allegation at your UCA hearing. In general, don't volunteer anything. If they want something from you regarding the circumstances of your termination, they'll have to get it out of you. You probably want to come across as someone who does not dwell upon the past, who does not take bad events personally and who lets bygones be bygones.

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The truth

The truth here is you did your job, and when they didn't like your answer they got rid of you, lied about it being "misconduct" to attempt to block unemployment, and lost that case as well. (Sadly I wouldn't be surprised if you were used as a scape goat for the lack of action on the legal threat)

What should you say?

Since you are the victim here in something ethically, politically, and legally murky you shouldn't have reservations being honest. (Though I wouldn't go into any real depth)

Typically when you take on a new job it's rare the old one will use a word other than "Terminated" regardless of if you quit, fired, etc. So if they don't ask, you really don't need to share details.

Why did you leave your last job?

This is among the most common questions and one you'll have to answer. You have some responses you can say that offer more details, others that offer less. What you say you need to determine based on the interview and the personalities and values of those involved.

In some cases it's best to keep it very short. "I documented where some complaints were not handled and was then terminated when I expressed concern we had poor legal footing when a legal action was threatened in response to the unhandled complaints." (Leaving out all the stuff of misconduct etc.)

On another hand you could go into greater detail, but that could backfire as much an benefit.

Telling someone you were wrongfully terminated for misconduct, then got won your case in the UCA hearing, etc shows knowledge of the process, and also a certain level of confidence in your story... But it also won't come across well for any company with even the mildest of concerns in such legal stuff.

You could also share half the story... "I was falsely accused of misconduct, I eventually proved my innocence, but sadly only after things escalated too far."

Reaction

As someone who hires, if you came to me with this tale you'd be on good standings with me, but I tend to have a very strong stance on what is ethical and moral verses what's "business".

I think someone who's primary focus is on legal or the bottom line might see you as a danger because of your battle with UCA... I'd try to avoid that topic with such people.

  • Thank you for the insight. I would prefer not to get into all of specifics, or the UC Appeal Hearing. But as someone who hires as well, terminations, without a lot of explanation sometimes draws a red flag for me. Just for the record, this is not a "tale", these are actual events. Some may be even blown away if I actually were able to give you specific details of the allegations. – KimC Oct 16 '14 at 20:11
  • And I was a witness to some of these incidents, spoke with the male employee regarding his behavior. Still management, (due to these males were friends and worked together at a previous company), they chose not to respond. Unfortunately for them, the female employee did file suit with the EEOC and the PHRC respectively. – KimC Oct 16 '14 at 20:12
  • I realize these are actual events, but when you listen to them in the hiring process typically you have to gauge whether you think it's a true story or not. I did have someone in similar situation (gave the boss bad news, got wrongfully terminated for it) He responded with "Well you know how they say 'don't shoot the messenger'? Yeah, well I was the messenger." He then gestured in a manner of "and here we are" I only got the rest of the details later. (They found Asbestos in a building they had made plans to renovate, the "bad news" was the lowest bid they got to fix it) – RualStorge Oct 16 '14 at 20:42

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