What You Should Ask An Employer When You're Fired

Questions to Ask When You Are Terminated From a Job

Copyright YinYang / E+ / Getty Images

Getting fired or laid-off from your job can be very stressful. Your first instinct may be to get up and leave immediately following the conversation, but you shouldn't give up so easily. There are many questions you should ask your employer when you’re fired. It's important to find out exactly why your employment is being terminated, if there are any steps you can take to have the decision reversed, and perhaps most importantly what - if any - compensation you're entitled to following the firing.

Questions to Ask When You’ve Been Fired

After you're fired or laid-off, the conversation with your employer will depend on the circumstances surrounding your termination, in addition to your personal and professional goals at that point. In general, you will want to find out how losing your job is going to affect you immediately, as well as in the longer term. It’s perfectly legitimate to inquire about severance pay, unemployment, and what information will be shared with potential and future employers.

Get the Facts

If you are protected by a personal or union contract, then you should ask for the employer's justification to determine if they have legitimate grounds for their action. If, like most workers, you are employed at will, then the employer will not be required to furnish a rationale for your firing. However, most supervisors will be willing to discuss at least general reasons for the decision: performance and restructuring being among the most common.

Could You Stay?

When you want to keep your job, you have nothing to lose by asking  if there might be any leeway with their decision. In addition, even if you don't have contractual protections, most employers have a policy manual that underscores the conditions under which an employee can be terminated.

An explanation for your firing may give you the opportunity to contest the action, but will also give you insight into how you can improve your work habits for a future job.

If your employer has referenced a shortcoming of yours as grounds for your firing and you believe that you can address the concern over time, you might ask if you could be placed on probation for a period of time in lieu of an immediate termination. You can explain that you would aggressively address the weakness during the probationary period, and would appreciate re-evaluation after that time.

Can You Resign Instead of Being Fired?

You may want to ask if you would be allowed to resign instead of being fired if you want to avoid the stigma of a firing. However, if your employer agrees, you may jeopardize your eligibility for unemployment payments. So, you might also ask your employer if they would agree not to contest any claim that you make for unemployment in the event that you resign.

What Information Will the Company Give During Reference Checks?

In addition, if they agree to a resignation, you might ask for a letter of recommendation. You should also ask how the company will handle any inquiries about your tenure with the organization.

Find out if they will simply share dates of employment like some organizations do, or if they will give the reason for your departure.

Check on Severance and Vacation Pay and Benefits

You should also inquire about any severance pay, compensation for unused vacation, sick time, and options for continuation of healthcare coverage for a period of time. Make sure you ask what steps you need to take in order to secure any compensation and to continue your health coverage.  Ask about your pension and 401k so that you understand any company rules governing those assets.

Get Your Computer Files

If you haven't backed up any personal computer files on your office computer - something you should always do - you can ask for the opportunity to retrieve any important documents. Depending on the circumstances, you may not be allowed access to your files once you have been notified of your termination.

Always keep your personal files backed up, or better yet, away from your work computer entirely. It would be unfortunate to lose everything in the event of an unexpected change in your employment situation.

Keep it Professional

During the conversation, resist the temptation to lash out at your employer, or any of your colleagues, in an unprofessional manner.  The satisfaction derived from any parting shots will be fleeting, but your last words will be remembered should anyone be asked, formally or informally, about your time with the organization. Even better, try to leave on a positive note, making your closing impression one of steady good judgement.