I received a letter from a woman in India who was recently fired for being ethical and upholding her values and principles. Here’s her story:
I’m from eastern part of India. I have work experience of 14 years in IT. Last April 2014, I joined a start-up company as Technical Lead & Project Manager as they wanted my ability to help the company grow.
Things were good till I hired an ex colleague of mine as my junior. After a month into this company, she started having an affair with the top boss and was virtually running the company in disguise. The top boss wanted to fire everyone whom she didn’t like.
The first in the line was our HR. Since I was the most senior employee they wanted to use me in firing her. They offered me a hefty hike if I did. But I didn’t do it as my professional ethics prevented me.
Then that boss started spreading among the employees that I am not that competent and the company had incurred loss due to my inefficiency. When HR asked for the detailed list of the projects cancelled due to my inefficiency, the boss wasn’t able to give it.
On 13th January, 2015, I took a day off due to my severe back pain. On that day, the company mailed me my termination letter effective from 14th January, 2015. The mail didn’t carry any company letterhead, digital signature. It was just a plain mail format.
Since then have started applying for new jobs and I am not hiding that I was terminated. But please advise me what I should say about the reason of termination. I can’t go this deep when asked by the new company.
First of all, bravo for standing up for your ethics. Personally, you have paid a price with yourcareer, however, your morals are intact and that compass will land you with the right organization in the future.
Second, the fact that the company terminated you in the way they did is not surprising. Start-up companies may not have their policies and procedures in place like a large organization.
When you believe you have been fired for being ethical, it can put you in a difficult position. In your interview, if you have stated that you were fired which is completely accurate, your future employer wants to know why.
What do you say? Know that if you go into any details about your previous employer it will show badly on you, especially if the employer is well-known in your community. You don’t want to be known as the person spreading negative comments about them.
It is important to keep it light and high level. Avoid going into the details. In this situation, it would be perfectly acceptable to say that your values or approach to business was very different from your previous employer. If questioned about what you mean – then avoid saying what the employer did or did not do and emphasize what you do and how you like to work.
Another approach is to tackle the business size – that is only if you decide start-ups are not for you. Some people thrive on having procedures and processes in place; others want the excitement and challenge of the unknown. As you found out there are trade-offs. Start-ups can run amok quickly without a clear set of values.
For more information on how to craft your specific response, consider investing in your future with my eBook: What to Do After Being Fired. It will help you get past those hurdles more quickly even if you were fired for being ethical.
Three cheers for the woman who was fired for being ethical. As a person who worked at a relatively high level of government (department head) I have always believed and advised young people, “At some time in your career, you will be asked to cross a line. Be very careful. Remember, it’s a slippery slide down on the other side. One unethical decision leads to another – to another – to another.” If you remain on the “right” said, you can face yourself in the mirror.