“Can a former employee negotiate to get a neutral reason for departure from her former employer after she was terminated for poor performance?”

Question: What are some tips for a former employee to negotiate a neutral termination reason if terminated due to unsatisfactory performance? Can this be done if a separation/severance agreement has not been executed yet?

         Susan
         Silver Spring, MD

Answer: Susan, your question is a good one, because so many people face this dilemma.

First, you probably don’t need to negotiate for this. You should understand that it is an almost universal employer policy in almost every company not to give out the reason or reasons for an employee’s departure. All employers usually give out is (a) confirmation you worked there, (b) title or titles, (c) dates of hire and departure, and, if requested by you, (d) final salary. This is because so many companies are afraid of getting sued by their former employees for interfering with attempts to regain employment.

Second, the best time to negotiate anything with a former employer is before you sign a separation or severance agreement. If you still feel the need to negotiate a neutral reason for your departure, the best time to negotiate that would be before you signed a separation/severance agreement. And the reason for departure is a “give” in such a negotiation that does not cost the former employer one single dollar out of its treasury. Employers see severance agreements as the time and place to resolve all issues. After you have signed such an agreement, you have given up all of your claims and rights. Before you sign such an agreement you may have leverage to get what it is you want, including a neutral reason for leaving.

Third, the best way to negotiate the reason for your departure is to let it be known that you believe a different reason exists for your being classified as “inadequately performing.” You can notify your employer that you believe that your termination had more than one reason, and that the “primary” or “real” reason was, perhaps, (i) lack of business, (ii) change in business climate, (iii) anticipated reorganization, or any number of other reasons. I want you to know that it is not uncommon at all for employers facing hard times to, all of a sudden, decide that many employees do not do sufficiently good work. So, the reason you give others for your departure may, in fact, differ with the reason given to you by your employers.

Fourth, I suggest you read my article entitled “Top 25 Neutral Reasons to Explain Why You Left Your Old Job.” You may view it by [clicking here]. It provides many, many good reasons for you to give prospective employers for your departure.

Overall, leaving a job these days is not necessarily any kind of “black eye.” When the employment relation ends, it’s usually due to several reasons. It’s like ending a dating relation: it’s usually no one’s fault, and even if it was someone’s fault, he or she would never, ever admit it, anyway. 

Hope this helps.

     Best, Al Sklover

P.S.: In job-hunting, you will likely be asked “Why did you leave?” Use our Model Memo Requesting a “Departure Statement” either during or after Severance Negotiations, with Sample Departure Statement. “What to Say, and How to Say It.”™ To obtain your copy, just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly!   

© 2010 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.