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  1. #1
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    Nov 2013
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    Default Can an Employer Ask About the Reasons for Past Terminations

    My question involves labor and employment law for the state of: California

    This is more a question out of curiosity than anything else. I am seeing a number of employment applications in California that ask if the applicant had ever been terminated or asked to resign. It seems liked a reasonable question, except that California is an At Will state. As such, your employer can terminate you at will just as you can leave at will, for any reason or no reason. Basicly, the meaning of termination is simply that the employee is no longer working at the company as of a given date. The reason why is irrelevant. So, if the question is being asked as part of a hiring decision, the company is making a distinction as to being terminated voluntarily or involuntarily, which seems to contradict the the at will concept. Legally is an applicant obliged to answer this question as a yes/or no and under what conditions?

    Thanks

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Can an Employer Ask About the Reasons for Past Terminations

    The applicant is not legally obligated to answer the question. The employer is not legally obligated to accept the applicant's application if they do not. The question is legal in all 50 states and has nothing at all to do with the concept of at-will. Just because you don't see the relevance doesn't mean there is none.

    FYI 49 out of 50 states are at-will states, and the 50th accepts the doctrine of at-will in some situations.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Can an Employer Ask About the Reasons for Past Terminations

    Quote Quoting bhartwell
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    The reason why is irrelevant.

    Thanks
    No, the reason why the employee was terminate is very relevant. At will simply means that it’s not automatic that being fired or asked to resign was for good cause. So simply knowing the person was fired doesn’t by itself tell a prospective employer much. But it leads to the very important question of why the employee was fired. If the person was fired because the previous employer had a massive layoff, that’s not the fault of the employee and wouldn’t be held against him. But if he was fired because he stole money or property from the previous employer, you can bet that a prospective employer would want to know that and would likely not want to hire a thief.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Can an Employer Ask About the Reasons for Past Terminations

    In medium and large size companies HR departments will customarily only confirm or deny current or past employment of individuals. They will not answer questions or provide reasons for termination to prospective employers of the applicant making inquiries.
    Unless you are applying for a government position, it is usually safe to answer questions regarding past employment terminations in generic terms such as disagreements between the parties or that you left to pursue better opportunities. If they dig further during an interview it also shows good form if you say that you don't want to talk bad about your previous employer and would like to leave it at that. This will give the impression you left due to problems at the company and not problems the company might have had with you. Whether they believe that or not will depend entirely on your credibility or other information they might have about you.
    I can assure you that if you comment on a question by a prospective employer during the application process regarding past employments as being irrelevant, unethical, possibly illegal or just unfair, that your chances of getting that job will be less than one in a thousand.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Can an Employer Ask About the Reasons for Past Terminations

    If they dig further during an interview it also shows good form if you say that you don't want to talk bad about your previous employer and would like to leave it at that. This will give the impression you left due to problems at the company

    This can also backfire on you. Do not ever imagine that various HR folk don't talk to each other.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Can an Employer Ask About the Reasons for Past Terminations

    It is a legal question; it is relevant whether you agree or not; and an employer can refuse to continue with your application if you refuse to answer.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Can an Employer Ask About the Reasons for Past Terminations

    Quote Quoting cbg
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    This can also backfire on you. Do not ever imagine that various HR folk don't talk to each other.
    You mean the Secret Blacklist?


  8. #8
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    Default Re: Can an Employer Ask About the Reasons for Past Terminations

    Yeah, that secret blacklist that's so secret, not even the people who do the references know about it.

    I know you know this, AJ, but for those folk reading who really do believe such a thing exists, first off NO. There is no secret blacklist.

    However, HR personnel do share information about their employees WHEN ASKED. I have quite a few friends who do some form of HR and I've been involved in a few conversations that start out, "Hey, we just hired someone who used to work for you" or something on that order.

    There have also been times when I've had information about my employees, or former employees, fall into my lap when I wasn't even looking for it. And of course, there's my favorite story about the time I was introduced to the new COO of my then-employer and it was my father's next door neighbor; couldn't keep any secrets from him! I've had former employees - and former bosses - turn up as vendor representatives, recruiters, newly hired co-workers, and on one occasion my old boss from a former employer was hired as my new boss at my new employer.

    The bottom line is that you cannot assume that the only way an employer can find out any information about you is in their application and/or official background check. Any given industry is a small world and people know each other.

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