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This is in the state of Texas, which I believe is an at-will state. The company gives 10 sick days, plus 10 vacation days. Pretty awesome.

My wife works about 4 months out of the year(Jan-April). During that time, if our daughter is sick/has appointments or anything like that, I use my days to take care of her. Not to mention if I get sick, or other emergency arises, I use my days.

In the last two years, I've used about 8-9 days of sick and 8-9 days of vacation by June/July. After this happened the first time, I was talked to by the new project manager because there was a concern I may need to take unpaid time off, and that would affect insurance and other benefits and such. I've never, in fact, used more than the days allotted.

Now, this year, it occurred again. This time, I explained to my project manager the reasoning behind it, and she seemed okay with this. My project lead has never had a problem with my taking the days, nor has he ever had a problem with my work. He always let me know I was doing good, and the only time I missed a deadline was when the requirements changed 2 days before the deadline.

All that said, the project manager let me go with the claim that it was a "pattern of unsatisfactory work performance." I guess my question is, when the inevitable question of "What caused you to leave your last position?" comes up, how best can I frame this? I obviously don't want to lie to a potential employer, but I also want to get ahead of my former employer saying I was fired for unsatisfactory work performance, when in actuality, my work performance was never in question.

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    So you obeyed company leave policy, and the quality of your work was satisfactory, and you were fired for seemingly contradictory reasons. Either we're not getting the whole picture, or you were fired unfairly and this borders on a legal issue. – MikeQ Jun 23 '17 at 17:27
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    I think you need to have a conversation with a labor type lawyer. – Mister Positive Jun 23 '17 at 17:42
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    Hmm, why exactly are we closing this as legal? OP isn't asking a legal question at all but is just asking how to phrase this when it comes up in an interview. That's a workplace issue and not a legal one. – Lilienthal Jun 23 '17 at 19:42
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    Perhaps I misunderstand what a "sick day" is, but it seems to me like it is distinct from, and therefore not, a vacation day. It is not just "more vacation days with a different name". If you are not sick and not taking a vacation or unpaid day, you must show up. Not doing so is fraud. That's what I thought! – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jun 23 '17 at 23:40
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    I can see the issue being a problem, you say that this only occurs during 4 months (approximately 16 weeks), but you take 16-18 days off during those weeks, probably with very short or no notice. That means you are taking off at least 1 day per week, sometimes 2. While within your days, it still seems excessive (and I have kids so I know how it goes, but that seems like a lot, unless your child has a chronic illness). I would be honest with your next employer and attempt to find other ways to have your child cared for (personal sitter, family, etc). – Ron Beyer Jun 24 '17 at 15:32
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When the inevitable question of "What caused you to leave your last position?" comes up, how best can I frame this?

Say something like the following:

I was let go because I used the PTO that [I negotiated as // was] part of my benefits package. They considered actually using those days to be a performance issue.

Good managers will be somewhat incredulous. Most interviewers will ask to elaborate. If they do you can point out some of the following:

  • you never missed a deadline (changing requirements void deadlines)
  • your performance was never questioned
  • you had great performance reviews (if true of course)
  • when you asked your PM if it was okay to use your PTO he agreed
  • you never even used all the days you were given

The reason you should call it PTO is that you usually want to avoid making any reference to health problems and mentioning "sick days" qualifies. It can sometimes affect an interviewer's impression of you, even subconsciously. PTO can be used as a generic term these days, but of course don't lie or avoid mentioning sick days at all costs, it's really not that big of a deal. You may want to throw in that you used it to care for a sick child to dispel any notions that you've got a chronic health issue.

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Unfortunately, many organizations include sick leave in their basic compensation package, but then expect it to be used only under dire conditions. Also, some expect vacation time (which is earned, not given BTW), to be used only in week increments, not one day at a time. The trouble is, few of them are straight forward and actually tell you these things, so you situation is not that unusual.

As an interviewer, I would likely accept an explanation along the lines of "I needed time off for family circumstances which I felt took priority. Management disagreed and had not explained their policy about taking time off for such reasons and let me go." If the company you are applying to has the same attitude, it will disqualify you, and you can move of to someone else who has a better attitude for a healthy home life.

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    I would say that "management did not explain their unwritten policy..." – DLS3141 Jun 24 '17 at 0:33

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