I Was Fired! What do I Say on Job Applications?

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?”
“I supposes…”
“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.


6 thoughts on “I Was Fired! What do I Say on Job Applications?

  1. I don’t know how many times this has to be said before it starts sinking in….don’t lie. Don’t lie on your resume. Don’t lie at your interview. Don’t lie to your co-workers. Why? Because today it is really, really easy to find out the truth.

  2. I’ve been fired myself and I have not lied on any job applications. I decided to start using my education of an Assoicates Degree and high level of certification for my next job for repair and maintenace work. My previous job had absolutely nothing to do what I am educated in. Not once did I ever got an invitation for an interview. A friend told me that if you put down that you were fired from a previous job, they will discriminate against hiring you. He told me a situation of where a son of a friend of his was fired from a job. He too put down on his applications that he was fired. He never got any interview invitations. My friend told him to stop telling potential employers that you have been fired. So he had to lie on his job applications and when he started to do that, he got job interviews and finally landed a job.
    Many employers have this mindset that a job applicant who was fired from a previous job is a violent, hard core criminal, whereas in reallity the employee might have been thrown under the bus from his or her previous job or some excuse to get rid of someone. I believe the reason why companies don’t state on their help wanted ads, ” Previous fired applicants need not apply” is because if there was enough of them, then the question, “Have you been fired from a previoius job?” would become outlawed. Smart politicians wants fired employees back into the workforce and paying taxes, not fithy bums on the streets.

    • Don’t the guest steal from the store everday when they bring back items wihoutt having reciepts and state they just bought it yesterday but you can tell the item has been used, worn and abused and yet a manager overrides your authority and returns the 100.00 item anyway.

  3. I have found out when you put on an application that you have been fired, dissmissed, or terminated it sends up a red flage to the potential employer. I have applied for numerous of jobs over the past 4 yrs. some I knew I was way over qualified for and I have only had about 3 invites for an interview but I just recently found out through a former coworker that someone in hr was giving out info. other than dates. And that, that someone would transfer the potential employer to the former supervisor (which is totally against their policy) who would speak a truck load of negative things about me. I also recently applied for a position with a family member who didn’t get my application from hr. when asked about my application they where told when an applicant puts they were asked to resign, dissmissed or terminated and does not explain or says they will explain durning interveiw its a red flag and a bad sign so those applications go in file 13. I don’t believe in lying on anything because it always comes back on day. However I do believe that some creativity is needed when applying for jobs because employers mark you as a bad investment if you have ever been fired as though its always the employees who were at fault sometimes they were just railroaded by the employer and couldn’t prove it. So what I do now is put the name of supervisor as HR. and give them the number to HR. I dont lie on applications I just limite how much of the truth I tell and I always make the former employer look as though they did me a favor by letting me go and so for that has worked out great for me.

    • In the past as it seems to me that if you were fired from a job, your employer would just consider you as another potential employers’ problem. Every job I worked at, where someone was fired, they immediately got another job with a competitor with better pay and benefits. Today, more than ever, I believe that the employers are hellbent on making sure that their former discharged employees become humiliated by becoming homeless or at least having to move back home with “mommy and daddy.” Of course they prefer the former. I truly believe that if someone informed a manager that a former discharged employee was seen with sign on the streets with the caption,”Homeless. Please Help!” That manager would become all giddy and get in his car to drive by just to mock and laugh at that person. If that was not the case, then why does not these former employers point out all the good deeds these former employees have done. Especially if they have been there for more than 10 years. If you are truly a bad employee your job application would be filled with past jobs with the most about 2 years with more than one discharge. Your manager or newly promoted manager might have had a personal hatred towards you and found a legal excuse to make your life miserable, or doing it out of vengance. Such as if the manager was a former supervisor and did something against company policy or unethical and you were found out to have anomynously have reported it to the brass. As a result he or she just barely survived being fired. Another is a client who are not satisfied makes a false claim against you or blows a claim way out of proportion. Then they always follow it up with, “because of this employee of yours, We or I will look for one of your competitors to do business with.” That is pretty much guaranteed a discharge. As for former discharged employees or even employers who were terminated for company theft, assault or deliberate destruction of company property, I do believe that the former employer should have the rights to press criminal charges. Thus a criminal record on your resume.

  4. My 2 cents on employers is that they always have to upper hand in their employees future. As an at will employee you are only bound to your next paycheck by your employers whim. You can be fired for cause or no cause. Personality clashes with the boss=fired, Bruise your bosses ego=fired, Don’t kiss the bosses patutty=fired, you get the picture. I now advocate unions for this very reason alone. Getting fired can and in fact does cause harm to families and I think it should always be more criteria, proof, due diligence involved before any employee is fired.

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