My Employer Says I Have To Resign. What Should I Do?

My Employer Says I Have To Resign. What Should I Do?

Suzanne Lucas, the not-at-all-evil Evil HR Lady at CBS Money Watch, wrote an interesting piece about being forced to resign, and I wanted to talk some more about this important issue here. I get this issue all the time. People come to me and say, "I was forced to resign." Huh? How did the employer do that? Gun to head? Torture devices? Kidnapped loved one? Because your employer can't make you quit. Quitting is entirely, 100%, up to you.

Just because your boss or HR comes to you and says you have to resign, doesn't mean you should. My usual advice is never, ever resign unless you have another job lined up or the company offers you an incentive to resign that makes it worth your while.

Suzanne Lucas says you should ask these questions/say the following before resigning:

What will be my official "reason for termination" be in your HR system as well as my paper file?

  • How much severance will you give me in exchange for my resignation?


  • If I resign, will you oppose unemployment?


  • Why do you want me to resign?


  • What will you say when you are called for a reference?


  • I will take this and have it reviewed by my attorney before signing.


  • I need this in writing.



I agree 100%. You need to weigh your options carefully before agreeing to resign. Now is the time to negotiate. If they want you gone, let them pay you to go away. Otherwise, make them fire you. You need to consider the upsides and downsides to resigning versus being fired. Here are some things to consider.

Why You Shouldn't Quit

You haven't complained about illegal harassment or discrimination that occurred: It may be a bit late in the game, but if you didn't follow the company's written policy on reporting harassment based on race, age, sex, religion, national origin, disability, etc. then you may lose potential claims against the employer. Now is the time to put together your formal, written complaint of discrimination and harassment. Submit it to HR as soon after the meeting where they asked you to resign as you can. If you think the resignation request is being pushed by your harasser, say so. Tell them how others of a different race, age, sex, religion, or whatever your protected category is were treated differently. Tell them that those others are not being asked to resign. Ask them to do a prompt investigation. Sometimes, they really don't know about the discrimination and reporting it might stop the termination process in its tracks.

They aren't offering anything: If they don't offer severance or some other monetary incentive, why would you quit? Don't make it easy on them. If they want you out of there, they should offer something, in writing.

You might lose your right to unemployment benefits: Some unscrupulous employers use the resignation as an excuse to claim you aren't entitled to unemployment. It could be your word against theirs if you don't properly document that you were forced to resign.

They want you to sign something right away: If the employer is shoving something in front of you and demanding you sign it, consider that a red flag. They're trying to trick you. Don't sign anything you don't understand or are too distraught to think about clearly. Tell them you need time to think about it. Take it to an employee-side employment lawyer if there's anything in it you don't fully understand.

You have claims against the company: If you think you have a discrimination, whistleblower, worker's compensation retaliation, breach of contract or other claim against the employer, you may have leverage to negotiate a better exit package. Don't sign a release of claims without fully exploring your options.

You aren't fooling anyone: Some people think a resignation looks better on a resume. Maybe. But if you resign and are then unemployed for months or years, who do you think you're fooling. Nobody in their right mind quits without having another job in this economy. HR people aren't (mostly) dumb, so they will know something happened that prompted your resignation.

Why You Should Quit

Great severance package: If you are offered a severance package that will tide you over sufficiently when you're looking for another job, then you might want to take the deal. Make sure you aren't also signing away your right to work for a competitor, your pension, or something else of value. Take it to a lawyer to be sure.

Won't challenge unemployment: In most states, the mere promise that you'll get unemployment without a hassle isn't much incentive. Unemployment is usually a fraction of what you were making. However, if you think they might have a basis to successfully challenge your unemployment, then you might consider the resignation as long as they make the promise about unemployment in writing.

You have an alternative: If you have a job offer you've been considering, have a startup company you want to spend more time on, or think it might be time to retire, then a forced resignation might help you make a smooth transition. Make sure they agree they won't tell potential employers or customers anything other than that you left to pursue other options.

If your employer is asking you to resign, you have some power, as Suzanne Lucas points out in her excellent article. Now is the time to explore your options, talk to a lawyer, call your union rep, and read everything carefully. You may have more leverage to negotiate in this situation than you think. Good luck!

See more employment law posts on Donna Ballman's blog, Screw You Guys, I'm Going Home

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