What to Do If Your Employer Asks You To Resign
You have more negotiating power than you think
What would you do if your manager asked for your resignation, or gave you the choice between quitting or being fired? Is it better to leave with a resignation instead of a firing in your job history, or is it better to decline and get fired instead? And if your employer wants you gone, why are they giving you a choice in the first place?
While you might be tempted to agree to resign so that you don't get fired, think carefully before you do. There isn't a ton of benefit to resigning in a situation like this. Sure, you won't have to answer "yes" when future employers ask if you've ever been fired – but in this economy, interviewers are going to be curious about why you quit without another job lined up and will assume that something happened that led to your separation.
But there's a reason that your company is asking you to resign rather than firing you outright. Ask yourself, what's in it for them? Maybe they're simply being kind and think that this is in your best interest; they might assume that it allows you to save face. But it's also possible that they don't want to follow the lengthy disciplinary process that their own internal policies require and they'd rather cut their losses now. Or maybe they'd like to fire you but know it would be legally risky because you have evidence of illegal discrimination or recently filed a wage complaint or reported harassment. While employers have an enormous amount of leeway in who they fire and why, it's illegal to fire someone in retaliation for any of these things – and so they might hope you'll just resign and take care of it for them.
Whatever your company's reason for wanting you to resign, they're asking you to do something for them, and that means that you have some negotiating power. You can and should use that power to ask for the following:
Severance. While companies don't typically pay severance to resigning employees, they do frequently pay it to employees who are fired or laid off. And if you're being pushed to resign, it's entirely reasonable to ask if they'll provide a severance payment in exchange. (That said, be aware that severance is usually only offered if you're willing to sign a "general release," which releases the employer from any legal claims stemming from your employment. Take some time to look over this agreement and consider running it by a lawyer, since you might be able to negotiate a higher payment in exchange for giving up any claims.)
Eligibility for unemployment benefits. Typically, you're not eligible for unemployment benefits if you resign, but if you explain to your unemployment agency that you were forced out and the company doesn't dispute that, you'll nearly always be able to collect benefits. Ask your employer to agree not to fight your application for unemployment – and get that agreement in writing.
What your company will say to reference-checkers in the future. Simply by asking, you might be able get your employer to describe your separation in neutral terms, or at least to only confirm dates of employment. Make sure to negotiate this with both HR and your manager, not just one or the other. It's important that the company's official HR records reflect whatever arrangement is agreed to, but it's also important that your manager be on board too, because managers' references can often sound very different from HR's; managers are generally more equipped – and more willing – to go into detail about your performance.
The official reason for termination in company records. This can be a separate item from what they'll say to reference-checkers. The content of a reference is often about your performance, work habits, strengths, and weaknesses. That information can be presented in lots of different ways, depending on the speaker and the questions being asked. But your official reason for termination is a simple black-and-white statement of fact – like "terminated for cause," "terminated for misconduct," or "resigned." You want the latter.
Ultimately, remember that the decision is to resign or not is yours. Your employer can't force you to resign if you don't want to. (After all, what are they going to do – fire you?)