So you were fired. Terminated. Discharged. Let go. Basically your separation from the company was not your idea. So what do you say if the job application for your next position asks why you left your previous one?
There are some things that should be considered when deciding what to write. One thing is that you shouldn’t lie. Lying on a job application can come back to bite a job seeker years later. Imagine you are suing an employer for discrimination. You are sitting in the witness box at trial. The lawyer for the company suddenly flashes your job application onto a giant projector screen.
“Mr. Smith, is this the application you filled out when you applied for the job 8 years ago?”
“Yes, it looks like it.”
“Do you remember writing that you quit the job that you had before you started to work for Company X?”
“I suppose I did, I don’t really remember.”
“And that’s not true is it, you were asked to leave!”
“Well, I don’t know. I had issues and I was leaving and they might have…”
“So they fired you!”
“I guess you could say that”
“But you wrote on your job application that you left. That was a lie, correct?”
“Do you always lie on job applications, Mr. Smith!? Are you a liar?”
As you can see, defense lawyers love to make a huge song and dance about any little discrepancy that might even remotely suggest that a plaintiff can not be trusted to tell the truth. You don’t want to give them any ammunition. A lot of employment law suits come down to issues of credibility. Often there is an element of “he said, she said”. If there are no witnesses to a particular incident of harassment other than yourself and the harasser then whoever is seen as more truthful will have the advantage. In an overtime lawsuit the company may have failed to keep a complete record of the hours you actually worked. In that situation you may be asked to give a good faith estimate of the number of hours you worked. If the defense can make you seem like a liar in other areas then a judge or jury may give less credence to your hours estimate.
Lying on a job application can help a company cover up illegal or discriminatory conduct. One of the ways a company can successfully defend against a discrimination claim, for example, is to give a “legitimate, non discriminatory reason” for a termination. By lying on a job application, a company is potentially given a legitimate, non discriminatory reason to explain why you were terminated even when it was actually because of discrimination. They can say “she wasn’t fired because she was a woman. We fired her because she was dishonest!” In that situation a judge might find for the defendant on a motion for summary judgment (especially if you are filing a claim in the Northern District of Georgia Federal Court).
Does that mean you have to write exactly what happened and why you were fired? Probably not. Lying is bad, but being vague isn’t a crime. “Personal reasons” is an old classic that covers so much while implying that further discussion is unwelcome. Giving the company’s supposed reason for your termination on future job applications might be considered an admission if you later have an issue with the company that fired you. Say, for example, a company fires you for taking leave to care for your child in the hospital, but tells you that you were fired for being late too often. When you file a lawsuit the company is going to say “if you are claiming that you were fired you because you took leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, why did you write on all of your job applications that you were fired for being late too many times? Are you admitting that your lateness was the real reason you were fired?”
In the end it is a tough situation. How truthful you are might depend on the real reason you are no longer at your old job and how damaging the truth will be to the chances of getting the job.
The above is not legal advice. This article does not create or imply any attorney-client relationship. If you have any legal questions please look around our site or call or email attorney Ben Kandy for a consultation.