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TJ, Esq.
TJ, Esq., Attorney
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Experience:  JD, MBA
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What exactly does unfavorable circumstances mean in the following

Resolved Question:

What exactly does "unfavorable circumstances" mean in the following question:

"Have you ever been terminated from any employment, or did you resign while you were under investigation, or after being informed discipline would be taken, or under any other unfavorable circumstances?"

I left/was forced out of a company years ago. At the "termination meeting", they told me they had to let me go. I asked why. They didn't provide me with an answer, just that I knew why. But I didn't know why. When I got out of the meeting, the HR woman wouldn't tell me either. She just said that I would get unemployment benefits.

For a month prior to that meeting my boss had been on the rampage to try and get me out. Eventually they took something I said and made it into a violation. He had me sign something that said I did something wrong. He said that if I didn't sign it, I would be fired.

After I left/got terminated, they circulated an email internally saying that I had left to pursue a job at another company.

To this day, I still don't know the "official" reason of my resignation/termination. And I am not certain how to answer this question above, and how I should explain the departure to my future employers.

My husband says that it was not under unfavorable circumstances because I did nothing wrong, that I got unemployment, so therefore there was no misconduct on my part. He says that they probably have in their files the official reason for departure as my resignation, and that they just had me sign that document stating I was at fault for defensive purposes in case I sue them or something.

Is he right?

How should I answer the above question?
Submitted: 6 years ago.
Category: Employment Law
Expert:  TJ, Esq. replied 6 years ago.
Hello and thank you for allowing me the opportunity to assist you.

I tend to agree with your husband. More than likely your former employer would never state that you were fired for misconduct, and therefore, even though you signed the documentation stating that you violated a company policy, future employers will likely never hear about that document. Moreover, the fact that you received unemployment benefits substantiates the claim that you were not fired for misconduct.

Of course, if you claim that you were never fired under "unfavorable circumstances," and then a future employer finds out about the document that you signed, then it may opt to take action against you. On the other hand, your employer has that option anyway since California is an at-will state. Personally, I would take the chance and answer "no" to the question.

Have I satisfactorily addressed your concerns? If not, then feel free to let me know, as I will be happy to clarify my answer or help with your follow-up questions. In the meantime, please remember to click the green accept button so that I will receive credit and compensation for my time (doing so does not end our session). Positive feedback is always appreciated as well. Thank you and good luck!
Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Thanks for the fast response.

Ok, couple more points:

1) Does the fact that I signed that document under duress/threat of termination count toward anything?

2) My husband interpreted "unfavorable circumstances" as something that refers to me, that I did something wrong. I think it means that I left/fired under unfavorable circumstances in general. Who's right?

3) I am signing up to work for the county. Should I disclose this? If so, how? I'm not sure how I can describe what happend even if I wanted to, because, frankly I don't know if a) I was terminated or left; b) whether the company even has a record of me leaving under unfavorable circumstances. I have gotten jobs since then that have asked for previous employment names and references and it appears that they have not received any unfavorable reviews from the company.

What do you think? Any more insight?
Expert:  TJ, Esq. replied 6 years ago.
Hi again.

1) Does the fact that I signed that document under duress/threat of termination count toward anything? Realistically speaking, not really. If a future employer were to ever find out about the document, then you can certainly explain why you signed it, but neither your explanation nor the document itself has any legal meaning. The future employer could opt to believe you, or believe the document, or believe neither. In other words, the document that you signed is not conclusive legal proof that you violated a policy, and therefore, your explanation for signing is not conclusive legal proof of anything either.

2) My husband interpreted "unfavorable circumstances" as something that refers to me, that I did something wrong. I think it means that I left/fired under unfavorable circumstances in general. Who's right? It refers to you personally, not circumstances in general. For example, a corporate downsizing that results in layoffs could be considered unfavorable circumstances in general ... but that's not why you're being asked that question. You're being asked that question because the future employer wants to know about you personally. Your husband is correct.

3) I am signing up to work for the county. Should I disclose this? If so, how? I'm not sure how I can describe what happend even if I wanted to, because, frankly I don't know if a) I was terminated or left; b) whether the company even has a record of me leaving under unfavorable circumstances. I have gotten jobs since then that have asked for previous employment names and references and it appears that they have not received any unfavorable reviews from the company. Like I stated earlier, I would answer "no" and leave it at that. If you answer "yes," and then try to explain it, you'll likely just be causing yourself a headache. Companies don't generally divulge why people are terminated. They don't want to be sued for defamation, so the standard information that they tell your future employers is just a confirmation that you worked there, and your job title when you left. It is very rare for a company to give any information other than that. Moreover, it sounds like you're not even sure yourself if you were terminated and the reason why. Personally, I don't see anything to gain by answering "yes," but I see a lot to lose.

I hope that helps. Please remember to click "accept."

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