The HR Gantlet: How to leave your job without getting hurt

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In the June 30, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader is faced with the HR gantlet on his way out the door.

Question

I’m leaving my company and HR is asking me to sign all sorts of forms and documents. I’m faced with reams of legal-ese! I’m worried they’re going to slip in something that hurts me later. I also want to make sure I get documents that I might need later, and I want to avoid doing anything that might get me sued. Do you have any tips so I won’t get hurt while I make my way through the HR gantlet on the way out the door?

Nick’s Reply

gantletThe path out the door, whether you quit or have been fired, is usually rushed and HR goes into high gear issuing orders and giving you paperwork to sign.

Some of the paperwork is for your own protection. For example, insurance and retirement account information. Some of it can indeed hurt you later. I can’t walk you through everything in a newsletter, but I can touch on some gotchas you should be aware of.

This is from the “Crib Sheet” section of my PDF book, Parting Company: How to leave your job, pp. 67-73.


  • If you were fired after being put on a Personal Improvement Plan (PIP), obtain copies of relevant documents. Even if you don’t expect to take legal action, you may change your mind and your lawyer will need the information.
  • If you are given a letter of separation that requires you to sign off, consider having an attorney review it before you sign. Don’t forfeit your rights in an effort to exit quickly. Protect yourself.
  • Don’t leave your personal stuff in your office. Upon termination or resignation, you may not be able to retrieve it easily. Some employers will lock you out and pack what they believe is yours and ship it to you later. (See “Get your stuff,” p. 46.)
  • Don’t use company technology to store personal information. If the laptop and phone belong to the company, so does what’s stored on them.
  • If you work in sales, discuss who owns your customers and contact lists. Keep what’s yours, but don’t take what belongs to the company.
  • If you’ve been involved in inventions or patents or proprietary information, make sure you understand who owns the rights. Be aware of any restraints you may have already agreed to, e.g., Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA). Retain copies for your files and possibly for your attorney.
  • If you’ve signed any Non-Compete Agreements (NCA), make sure you understand the restraints. NCAs usually define a time period, geographic region, named customers you may not call on, and other terms. Retain copies. [Note: NCAs are not legal in some jurisdictions. Employers want you to sign them anyway. Also be careful with NDAs — Non-Disclosure Agreements.]
  • Do you anticipate a lawsuit for wrongful termination, age or sex discrimination, or sexual harassment? Before you do anything pertaining to your exit, consult an attorney. What you say or do during the exit process might be used against you. Don’t limit your options carelessly.
  • Throughout your exit process, carry a notebook. Make it clear to HR that you are taking notes about commitments and representations made to you. To put it bluntly, this encourages HR to take it all more seriously—and it keeps everyone more honest.

If you think you may need legal advice, don’t dawdle. Start by identifying good employment lawyers through trusted referrals, and inquire what the fees are. An initial consultation often costs nothing, or very little. Compare that to the cost of parting company without legal assistance.

There are many daunting challenges and choices you probably don’t realize you’ll face during this awkward time.

  • Do you know how to resign? (p. 40)
  • Should you consent to an exit interview? (p. 53)
  • Did getting fired shatter your self-confidence? (p. 12)
  • Should you accept a “package” to quit your job voluntarily? (p. 26)
  • What’s the truth about counter-offers? Should you accept one? (p. 50)
  • How can you prepare for the shock of a downsizing? (p. 20)
  • Is outplacement a big, costly mistake? (p. 28)
  • How do you explain to a new employer why you left your old one? (p. 58)

Reprinted from Parting Company: How to leave your job, pp. 67-73.


I hope these few tips cover some of your bigger concerns. When I wrote this book, I spoke with some of the best HR folks I know — and some of their warnings surprised me. Parting company can be a trying experience, so be careful.

The last bit of advice I’ll give you is this: Be on your best behavior on the way out the door, no matter how your employer behaves. Do the right thing, be professional, be cordial — but protect yourself.

Parting company can be a friendly experience, or you can get burned. What’s your experience been? When you left a job, did you encounter any nasty surprises you’d like to warn others about? Or, did your old employer do something nice during your departure?

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UCLA Anderson Webinar: Parting Company – How to leave your job on your own terms

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ucla-logoThis is a Q&A overflow area for attendees of today’s webinar Parting Company: How to leave your job on your own terms, presented to UCLA’s Anderson School of Management — students, alumni and faculty. The webinar was based on the book Parting Company: How to leave your job.

Many thanks to the team at Anderson for their kind hospitality, and to the audience for sticking around well past the end of the presentation — I enjoyed all your questions! If you have more, please feel free to post and I’ll respond to them all!

Today’s webinar agenda included:

  • When is it time to go?
  • Hitting the wall
  • How to resign right
  • Oops! Got fired!
  • Exit Interviews: Just say NO
  • Parting Company Cribsheet: Avoid the gotchas
  • Resources
  • Q&A

 

 

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The 6 Gotchas of Goodbye

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In the February 17, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we discuss how HR can make your exit tricky — and how to protect yourself.

The last word on leaving your job

When you leave a job, HR is often waiting for you with a few tricks. I call this exit gantlet the 6 gotchas of goodbye.

gotchaThis is the last of three special editions about what happens when it’s time to leave your job — and what to do to protect yourself. We’ve already discussed How to leave your job and how to Leave on your own terms. Then, of course, there’s the HR process that kicks in (and often kicks you!) when you’re on your way out the door.

Some HR departments are actually quite helpful to departing employees. Others are ready to exact a last pound of flesh from you. In any case, it pays to understand some of the gotchas and to be prepared — in the midst of an emotional ordeal — to escape intact.

These gotchas and my advice about how to beat them are from the 7-page Crib Sheet at the end of the PDF book, Parting Company | How to leave your job. The Crib Sheet is an extensive checklist compiled from my personal discussions with top HR insiders who know how the system works.

The 6 gotchas of goodbye

1. Don’t vent.

Your employer can use anything you say against you later. If you’ve resigned, avoid official discussion of your reasons, unless you want them in your personnel record. (See also pp. 46-47.) If you want to express yourself to your boss or to co-workers, do it off the record, casually, and preferably off-site at a restaurant or coffee shop. (See last week’s discussion about why you should not consent to an exit interview.)

2. Protect your future.

If you’ve resigned, don’t discuss where you’re going. (See also “Keep your future to yourself,” pp. 47-48.) Disclose it later, after you’ve started your new job, when there’s no possibility someone might try to nuke it. I once placed an executive whose resentful old boss contacted the new employer and made wild claims that almost resulted in withdrawal of the offer — until I completed an investigation and my client was satisfied none of it was true. Some employers feel betrayed and can behave irrationally. Don’t risk it.


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3. Protect your stuff.

Don’t leave your personal belongings exposed. Upon termination or resignation, you may not be permitted to retrieve them easily. Some employers will lock you out and pack what they believe is yours and ship it to you later. (See “Get your stuff,” p. 46.)

Tip: Don’t presume you have privacy at work. What you consider private might actually belong to your employer. When you start your job, make it clear in writing what belongs to the company and what belongs to you. One of my HR buddies, who contributed some astonishing tips to the Crib Sheet, says her IT department will confiscate a departing employee’s company cell phone and e-mail account immediately — and will not return any contacts or other digital files, even if they are personal. Never take anything that’s not yours, but think and plan ahead to protect your stuff. (See p. 71, “Protect yourself.”)

4. Outplacement: Don’t settle.

Should you accept outplacement help, or should you negotiate for an even more valuable alternative? One of HR’s dirty little secrets discussed in the book is that some employers offer outplacement not to help you get a new job, but to protect the company from lawsuits.

Tip: Outplacement may be negotiable, as discussed in “Outplacement Or Door #2?”, pp. 28-30. Start by negotiating for as much as you want, and settle for as much as you can get. Don’t assume the company’s first offer is set in stone. You may be able to negotiate a cash alternative so you can hire the career coach of your choice — not one that reports to the employer. Or you can pocket the cash.

5. Document.

HR has an extensive personnel file on you, and it will document your departure. You should document the process, too. Without such records, you may be at a disadvantage if, later on, there’s any controversy about your exit. For example, if you were fired after being put on a Personal Improvement Plan (PIP), obtain copies of relevant documents. Even if you don’t expect to take any legal action, your employer’s behavior may lead you to change your mind. The outcome may hinge on what kind of information you can provide to your lawyer. (See p. 69, “Benefits & documents.”)

Tip: Bring a pad to all meetings with HR during your exit process. Take lots of notes, including names, dates and times — especially about any promises made or terms discussed. Be polite, but make it clear you’re documenting. This puts HR on notice that you’re not a pushover. Your diligence could save you from a trick or two.

6. Don’t be in a hurry.

gotcha1Perhaps the biggest gotcha of the exit process is that HR is expert at it — and you’re not. HR will run loads of forms past you. Don’t be rushed. Make sure you understand every step of the process. For example, if you are given a letter of separation to sign, consider having an attorney review it first. Don’t forfeit your rights in an effort to exit quickly. Protect yourself. (See p. 27, “Do you need a lawyer?”)

(These 6 gotchas are from the 7-page Crib Sheet at the end of the PDF book, Parting Company | How to leave your job.)

Your employer’s HR office conducts an exit process to protect the company. It might be the friendliest, most responsible process possible. Or it might not. The risks to you could be enormous. Think of leaving your job like selling a house. There’s a written legal trail for good reasons: A lot is at stake and no one wants to get screwed. When you exit, be aware of the gotchas. And be ready to protect yourself.

How smooth was your last parting with an employer? Did you ever get surprised on your way out the door? What happened? What advice would you offer to the dearly departing?

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Quit, Fired, Downsized: Leave on your own terms

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In the February 10, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we discuss how to know it’s time to go, what to say to exit interviews, and how to resign right.

How are you leaving?leaving

Last week I introduced you to my new PDF book, Parting Company | How to leave your job, and we briefly discussed a reader’s question about what she should say to other employers about getting fired.

But there’s a lot more to the challenge of “parting company” with your employer. This gets short shrift from career writers and advisors because it’s considered water under the bridge — everyone wants to talk about “what to do next.”

The thing is, how you handle leaving your job is largely up to you. It can affect your prospects dramatically — and it can hurt your career. Even if you get fired, you have choices. It’s important to know what your options are. Whether you quit, get fired, or get downsized, do it on your own terms.

Leave on your own terms

This week, I’d like to share some advice straight from the book — just a few of the many issues you need to consider before you take that big step out the door.

Say NO to exit interviews

Whether you get fired or quit, never do an exit interview. (pp. 53-57) I have polled HR managers for over a decade. None can name one benefit of the dreaded exit interview for the departing employee, but I can name several serious risks. Whether you say complimentary things in an exit interview, or make critical comments and vent your frustrations, your words can be used against you.

Most obvious: Suppose you need to take legal action to get your final paycheck or a bonus you’re owed, or because you later realize you were discriminated against. Your employer can use your verbose comments to support its own case. Or, if someone later calls this employer to check your references, any negative comments saved to your personnel file might influence the quality of references you’re given.

Consenting to an exit interview just isn’t worth it.

HR managers argue that they need your candid comments if they’re to improve the company and their processes. But if that really matters to your employer, then HR should be asking you exit interview questions regularly, while you’re an employee, so you can benefit from any resulting improvements.

These are just a few reasons why, when you’re leaving your job, the prudent response to an exit interview is, No, thank you.

Read the signals now

Is it time to go? (pp. 9-11) You should be the best judge of whether it’s time to leave your job, before your employer decides for you. People often get fired because they don’t see signals that it’s time to go. It may be time to go when:

  • You’ve got no professional support. You’re the “top dog” in your department, and there’s no one to mentor you further. You start to stagnate, while everyone else comes to you for help doing their jobs.
  • You’re always ahead of your employer. You understand your work, your tools, the market, and trends better than your employer does, but no one listens to you.
  • You are isolated. There are too many walls between your job function and the rest of the company. You’re not allowed to put your head together with other departments to produce the best solutions. Everyone is isolated.
  • You’re not growing. Your employer doesn’t encourage continuing education and offers little, if any, training. They like you just the way you are, and they want you to stay that way.

Resign right

Do you know how to resign? (pp. 40-49) Many people simply don’t know how to resign properly. This can be catastrophic. Get your ducks in a row before you do it.

  • goodbye1Check your employer’s exit policy. You may be ushered out the door instantly, without being allowed to return to your desk. Find out how others have been treated, and check the written policy.
  • Never resign your old job unless you have the new offer in writing. I’ve seen too many people treat an oral offer as bona fide, quit their old job, and find themselves on the street when the offer is never finalized, or rescinded.
  • Get your stuff. Never take what’s not yours, but if you announce your departure too early, you may have to fight to get your belongings back. Plan ahead.
  • Resign in writing, one sentence only. This is no time to hand your employer ammo against you. Keep it short: “I, John Jones, hereby resign my position with ABC Company.” Sign and deliver to your boss with a copy to HR. Anything you say beyond that can be used against you by your employer. A resignation is business, not personal. Keep it simple.

These tips are excerpted from Parting Company | How to leave your job. There are far too many topics in the book to summarize here. (Check the Table Of Contents for a complete list.)

Next week, we’ll take a look at the HR process that kicks in when you’re on your way out the door. I’ll tell you about The 7 Gotchas of Goodbye. (Oh, yes — HR is waiting for you with a few surprises!)

Have you been fired or downsized? Did you quit for a better job? Did anything happen in the process that you didn’t expect or plan for? How have you controlled your departure from an employer?

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