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What if you're being pressured to resign?

Sometimes a boss wants to fire an employees, but for some reason he's not straight-out honest. Instead of saying, "I'm terminating your employment. Today is your last day. Here's your paperwork, and you will receive your last paycheck in one week," the boss says, "You have to sign this letter of resignation."

Take, Stephanie (who didn't want her full name used). Her boss never hinted that she wasn't doing a good job, so she was shocked when she was called into his office and told she was being terminated. She writes:

I was presented with two options -- it was either I accept being fired by management, or I resign. They presented me with the termination letter, but at the same time they also presented me with a one-line document, where it stated that I was resigning. If I agreed to the resignation, they would give me severance and benefits until October, as well as wiping the reason for departure (firing) from the record so that it changes to resignation. I was scared of the stigma of being terminated -- especially with having to mention it in future job interviews, so after a week of thinking it over, I signed the resignation letter presented to me by management.

I am now wondering if it was the best decision, as I now do not know what to say in terms of why I left my former job. I was essentially fired, but asked to resign. How do I face this (harsh) reality in job interviews, and how do I respond to hiring managers who will ask me why I left? They'll know what is up when I say I resigned without another job lined up.

Did she do the right thing?

When you're asked to resign, you have to ask the question, "What's in it for me?" Why? Because resigning from a job (generally) makes you ineligible for unemployment benefits. Your employer may acknowledge that but then argue that when you apply for a new job, you don't have to confess that you've ever been fired. And in fact, in a reference check, HR will report that the reason you left was "resignation." It sounds awesome.

However, recruiters are smart. They'll see that you left a job without a new one lined up, and they'll ask you why. You can't lie, so it will come out, "Well, I was forced to resign." So, the "benefit" your boss states is not a true benefit.

How does your boss benefit from you resigning? Well, you're not eligible for unemployment benefits. Businesses are charged for unemployment insurance based on the number of employees they've terminated. It's to their financial advantage for you to not file for and be granted unemployment benefits. Additionally, the boss can pat himself on the back and say, "Oh, I didn't fire anyone! Stephanie simply resigned."

But did Stephanie do the right thing here? You can never be 100 percent sure if the decision you made was the best one, but one key thing here leads me to say Stephanie did the right thing: Her company offered her severance in exchange for her signature. This is the trade-off for resigning the position rather than being fired.

She could also apply for unemployment (once her severance ends, if she's not employed) and appeal if denied. In some states and under some circumstances, you can convince the unemployment office that your resignation was forced rather than legitimate. It's worth an effort.

In a job interview, you're going to have to respond honestly. Give general details about what led up to the termination and say you received severance, which is generally a sign the employee didn't do anything terrible.

Generally, though, when faced with this dilemma, remember: The worst thing an employer can do is fire you. And that's not as big of a threat as the boss wants you to think.

Have a workplace dilemma? Send your questions to

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