Donald Trump made the phrase famous, but it’s a sentence you never want to hear in real life: “You’re fired.”
Unfortunately, sometimes, just like on The Apprentice, it can happen to the people you least expect.
The summer after my first year of university, I spent the summer working at a shoe store in my hometown. When I got the job, I had booked off time in July so I could visit my relatives south of the border.
After my family bonanza, I came home to messages asking me to come in to the store for a shift the previous week. I called the store to clarify that I hadn’t come in because I had been out of the country, as indicated on the staff schedule. Despite my reasoning, the new store manager, who had taken over while I was away, pulled an Arnold Schwarzenegger and “terminated” me.
In a state of shock I hung up and accepted that I had just lost my job, but according to employment experts, that was not the way to go.
The biggest mistake that students make when they’ve been fired is “not knowing their rights and not knowing if they were justifiably (and justly) fired,” says Aino Lokk, an employment counsellor at Ryerson University.
When you get a job
Don’t wait until you get that phone call to start learning your rights. When you get hired, make sure you know what can get you fired.
Lokk says right from the get-go, students need to be familiar with their legal work-related rights. Don’t just scan those contracts and forms – take the time to read them over, ask questions and make sure you understand the company policy and procedures, such as code of conduct or confidentiality of information.
Getting fired is never going to be pleasant, but Lokk says if the employer has followed due diligence throughout the firing process, then it shouldn’t come as a big surprise.
“If the employee is in clear violation of organizational policy or procedures, and/or has been given the appropriate warnings regarding behaviours or activities that need to change and they have not changed, then the next likely step is that they could be fired.”
If you’re put on probation, make sure you fully understand why. You can’t make it out of the probationary period without first understanding the performance issues or company policy violations that landed you there in the first place. If you’re unclear, ask questions and get updates on your progress to make sure you’re improving. You may not agree with your employer’s assesment of your performance, but rather than telling them you’re a great employee, use this time to show them.
Being put on probation is like walking a thin tightrope in a clown costume – it’s uncomfortable and it can feel like all eyes are on you, waiting for that one fateful misstep. When you become the focus of attention at work, use it as an opportunity to showcase your dedication to your job. Put your best foot forward and give them a show that will leave your employer wanting an encore.
If it comes to this, try and keep your cool. To figure out if you’ve been terminated fairly, Lokk recommends the following resources:
- Employment Standards Act
- Occupational Health and Safety Act
- Workplace Safety and Insurance Act
- Labour Relations Act
- Pay Equity Act
- Canadian Human Rights Act
Additionally, many universities and colleges have legal and employment resources that you can consult for advice.
Should the job still go on your resume?
In short, yes. If you gained skills and experience that are relevant to your future job hunt, then it still deserves a spot on your resume. If interviewers ask why you left the position, be honest.
If firing was unjust, you should “briefly describe the situation without ascribing any blame, allowing the employer to draw the appropriate conclusion,” says Lokk.
If you genuinely deserved to be fired, then focus on the lesson learned from the experience. For instance, if your contract outlined that employees are not allowed to speak to reporters about the company but you shared information anyway, Lokk says you could reflect on the fact that you now know to always defer media requests to the authorized person within the firm.
Ultimately, when the question comes up, try not to dwell on it, explain what happened and move on.