Quit or Get Fired? The Employee's Dilemma

Capt. Christopher Stricklin, a member of the USAF Thunderbird aerial demonstration team, safely ejects from his F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft during an Air Show at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III)

When a worker's services are no longer needed, most major employers will practice the usual custom of informing the employee, often on a Friday afternoon -- and sometimes offer a severance package. Others are simply sent packing, escorted out of the office (depending on the nature of their work).

But some employees are called into their direct supervisor's office and given the opportunity to either quit or be fired. This may call someone's pride into question, but the important thing to remember is to keep a cool head.

Most employees should force the boss to go through with firing them. There are very few exceptions to this.

Unemployment Benefits

The first thing to know is that there are few federal guidelines surrounding unemployment insurance and payments to former employees. Every state creates its own policy about unemployment payments. At the federal level, the rules are simple: Be unemployed through no fault of your own.

This means that, if you quit, you are very likely going to be unable to collect unemployment payments. Unemployment claims cost the employers money, and this could be one of the reasons a company is offering this choice: If an employee quits, the employer may not have to pay for the benefits.

When an employee is fired, unless the reason is for some kind of gross misconduct, the employer is unlikely to dispute an unemployment claim. But there are still reasons for termination that could likely result in a former employee having their unemployment claim denied. Failing drug tests (in many states) will result in disqualification, for example.

There are reasons for quitting that still provide the ability to collect unemployment, but being called into an office and being forced to choose is unlikely to present any of them.

Again, the standard is not being at fault for losing the job while meeting any state requirements.

When to Quit

If you do quit, the only way you could collect unemployment benefits is by having a good reason for leaving. This really boils down to not having another choice, such as unsafe working conditions, sick or injured family members, or being a military spouse whose husband or wife was forced to relocate in the course of their duties.

Another reason for the employer making this kind of offer to an employee could be related to the nature of their work. It's unlikely most industries and career fields will release the terms of an employee's termination to a new employer, but the reasons are put on file. If they ask, either by official means or backchanneling among friends, an employer might find out that a new hire was fired from their previous job and what the circumstances were.

For higher-level employees and executives, offering the option to quit could save a lot of face, time and headache over someone whose behavior was so egregious, it makes sense to part ways as quickly as possible. These stories often end up in the news or in trade publications.

If ever offered the choice to quit or be fired, the important thing to know is what your state's restrictions on collecting unemployment benefits are; not to be too hasty in making the decision; and ensure your employer isn't just trying to avoid paying for those benefits.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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