Fired for Being Ethical

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:

What to Do after Being FiredI’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 expertise 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 furnish 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 the fact 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 your career, 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 reflect 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.

My Take on Toxic Work Environment

There’s a new term being thrown around – toxic work environment. It’s a catchy phrase. To be honest, I am not sure I like it. While I fully understand that your work environment could bad for you, toxic refers to something being caused by a toxin or poison – something that is harmful or deadly.

You might argue that your work environment is harmful because of poor management or employee relations practices. However, companies that thrive are addressing these issues, if not they will lose their talented employees and customers.

The other issue I have with a toxic work environment is that the starting place is negative. There is nothing more demotivating than knowing you are at the bottom of the barrel and every step you make will be scrutinized.

Instead, why not start from knowing what the organization does well and build on it? Recognize the areas where you can make progress and focus on what you are doing right. It’s hard to motivate management and employees who think their company is toxic. Once a label is embraced, turning it around is very difficult.

Let’s say your company does have a toxic work environment – perhaps it is affecting your performance or health. Then, I have to ask – Why are you still there? The choice is yours to stay or leave – even if it is a difficult one.

Fired After Failing Drug Test

What do you do if your company fires you for failing a drug test? One reader wanted some advice about what to do when the company says you have quit.

I needed some advice. I was fired from job last Thursday for failing a drug test. I went in Friday and my separation notice stated that I quit. I signed it as fast as possible due to not strangling my boss. I just wanted to leave at that point. Should I be worried or upset with what has happened? They would have found a way to fire me eventually regardless. It happens to lots of employees there. I think there trying to buy their way out of unemployment pay.

11566653_sHere’s the whole story.

The boss never had a problem with my work ability. He is just suspicious of me sitting in a car while on break. Well I wasn’t just the only employee to do this. I think he just had it out for me…in one of his moods. I tell him its 6 degrees out and I’m staying out of the cold. I sit in the car every morning before work with no problems. He drives by in a vehicle and sees me and I think nothing of it. I mean I’m right here in front of the shop. He acts like I’m trying to hide something for being in a car.

I tell him I seen you drive by. I’m right here you see me I see you. Then he starts talking about my team not getting enough work done. So then I call him out saying that’s not on me. I do more than anybody on team. Next thing you know I’m being called in office.

He has contacted HR and GM and told them who knows what. They ask me what I was doing in a car and this and that. I tell them I sit there every morning. They have cameras and can see that.

Then there seems to be no problem with my work ability also. I’m a helluva worker now obviously. Then he says I need a drug screen for suspicion of being where I was.

Now I do smoke marijuana now and then and I do it in privacy of my home. I can’t do it at work for the fact I wouldn’t be able to function correctly. I tell him I’m going to press lawsuit if I pass the test for it had been a few weeks since.

Then I tell him about what he said at company meeting a few months before that an employee cracked a joke and I guess he forgot where he was and started talking about his “tube steak” private area out loud with male and female workers present. That sure did shut him up in the office. So on the way to be tested my immediate supervisor tells me this should have stayed in-house. The HR and GM should have never been called. I failed the drug screen. I came back to shop and signed separation notice saying quit. Comments said Mr. XX quit. That’s the whole story if it helps. Thanks again.

Your company most likely has a drug screen or drug test policy. Random drug tests are especially popular in companies where heavy equipment is being used for safety reasons.

I realize that getting a break may mean you want to get out of the shop. While you may not have done drugs on site, employees going to their cars on break often do drugs. Staying in your car in the parking lot is probably not the best decision. You would have been better off driving off the property to a shopping center and chilling out than doing it in your car. Do not give your employer a reason to be suspicious even if you are innocent.

I am not surprised that your boss may have wanted to let you go after you “put him in his place”. For some reason, bosses don’t take kindly to someone telling them they are wrong or be reminded of an event where they may have been embarrassed by their behavior.

When you find yourself in these kinds of situations it is always better to say less and not more. Give your boss less ammunition to load the gun that is being directed at you and perhaps you may have dodged the drug test bullet.

To answer your question about signing off the separation notice that said you quit. I think you got lucky. Here’s why.

When you go to another employer, you can say you quit your last job. If you were fired, you would have to say why they fired you and failing a drug test is not something another employer wants to hear.

I realize you won’t be eligible for unemployment and that may pinch your budget; however you will get a job faster and that is more money in the long run. Good luck.

Setting your Intention in the New Year

Have you set your resolution for the New Year? If not, consider setting your intention instead.

As I set a resolution, I am resolved to making it happen and to be honest, especially if it is a lofty goal, I fail at some point in the year. When I fail, I get discouraged….sometimes I pull myself back up and start again and other times I fall off the wagon completely.

Setting your intention provides some leeway or forgiveness. It says that you intend to do something. You are not perfect. It’s a statement that you are continuing to work on improving your situation….no matter how tough it may be.

I set intentions every day. It is a practice that I picked up in my coach training a few years ago. Each morning we would set an intention for the day. Your intention could be the same or change depending on what you wanted to focus that day.  At the end of the day we would share our golden nugget – a personal learning ah ha that gave us new perspective.

The framework of setting an intention and then reflecting and on how you grew on a daily basis reinforces what is working – a strong signal that you are moving forward in your life. It doesn’t matter is your step forward is in inches or by leaps and bounds. Every positive step is step in the right direction.

So if you dread New Year’s resolutions think about setting your intention…it could be for the year or carve it out day by day.

Checking Out your Own Body Language

People make decisions on whether to like, work or be with you every day on how you present yourself to them. Your body language or non-verbal mannerisms send instant signals to anyone in your presence. Granted, what your body is saying may not be what you are thinking. So goes the story I heard from a chatty stranger in the grocery checkout today.

17993792_sShe asked me if I thought the bus driver would like a package of chocolates as a gift. I commented that was generous of her and she shared that the bus driver stepped off the bus to express his concern over her daughter. He had asked her daughter several times what was the matter? Her daughter kept telling him nothing, but he did not give up and continued to ask.

The mother asked her daughter afterward about the incident and she said, nothing is the matter except that everyone kept asking her what she was upset about. The questioning started at school and continued all day ending with the bus driver.

That’s when the mother told her that she was like her. Both of them don’t smile and have a look on their face like they are worried when in fact everything is OK. She told her daughter to start practice smiling more. I commended the mother for teaching her daughter a lesson so early in life.

It’s classic. People misread people all the time trying to read body language. While you may say that’s their problem, in reality it becomes your problem.  People make assumptions and left unchecked, it becomes their reality.

I am not suggesting that you have to paste a fake smile on  your face all the time, but be aware when someone questions you…and perhaps you can bump it up a bit or at the very least let them know that you might come across as more of a serious person when in fact you quite content.

Think about if your body language sends mixed signals to others. If so, try to be conscious when it happens and make some subtle changes. Do they react to you different? If not, try something else.

The more you can do to educate others about your body language if is different from others, the easier it will be for you to connect with others.

How to Effectively Use Business Email Communications

This topic of how to effectively use email communications arose in a discussion with an executive the other day. He was caught in the middle of a situation because he had not strategically used to the tools available to him in business email communications. It got me thinking that if he could be more effective, then others could too.


The first step is assess your business environment and how communication is done. In his case, he was accustomed to talking to people vs. boiling down things into writing in a earlier organization. I am strong proponent of this age-old method when it works – however, let’s get real – in today’s business environment, some of that does not work especially in the rough and tumble cultures. The lesson here is to be observant about what other people are doing and adopt changes to be successful – if this is a place you want to thrive in.

Take a look at the email communications that you have received over the last few weeks. Is there a trend? When do people copy (cc) others? When do they leave them off and you think that they probably should have been copied? Note – this may be a clue to heavy use of blind copying (bcc). Knowing how others use business communications will help you establish your parameters for using the email communication tools.

I can hear your push back…you don’t want to have to reduce all your conversations in writing. I am not suggestion that you will have to do that, however, if you are getting burned or pushed into a corner, then you are at a clear disadvantage.

Consider what conversations need to be documented. Let people know as you leave the meeting that you will be following up with an email to confirm what the plan is and who will be responsible for taking the actions discussed. Without a paper trail, the water gets awful murky when something blows up.

Here are some general guidelines for addressing emails, use of copy (cc) and blind copy (bcc) especially in a business environment where people document their actions (sometimes affectionately called covering their ass).  Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for using these tools, however, some organizations take it to an excess.

Who to Address an Email Communication To

Always address the email to the person or persons who you believe need to take ACTION on your email. When you address emails to people who do not need to take action, they will discount future emails and may not react quickly because they are not sure if it is an actionable request.

When to Copy (cc) an Email

When you copy a person in the email you are sending the message – I want you to be informed about the request or conversation that is being shared with the people you have addressed the email to. Using copy (cc) does not ask someone to take action.

Do not copy your boss or project lead on every email unless they have asked you to do so. Why? This sends a signal to the people you are communicating with that you have little power or authority in the organization.

When to Blind Copy (bcc) an Email

This one gets tricky and will depend on the organization’s culture and the person you are blind copying. There are some people who want to know everything so blind copying is used heavily.

There are some situations where you should definitely blind copy someone:

  • Your boss has asked you specifically to do something and you want to let them know you are working the plan without using them as a crutch to get people to do something.
  • You believe an initiative or action may go haywire because of an experience or the person you are working with is unreliable. Keeping your boss apprised will help you if something blows up.

If you are unsure about what level of email communication your boss desires, ask them. Bring up a few different situations and see what their response is and respond accordingly.

Be as clear in your email communication as you can by using the structure available to you and don’t get caught in a political tug a war.

Making an Impression at Work

Sometimes people just get it right. A friend’s son shared his story about making an impression on the CEO, CFO and Chairman of the Board of his company. He did not try to WOW them with a pre-planned encounter; he was himself – in the moment – showing his true personality and asking questions as if they were his peers.

Kudos to the executives who welcomed and cultivated a professional relationship with someone unpicked from a slate of high potential candidates and saw potential in the unobvious.

Here’s the story about making an impression at work – there are many lessons to glean. No doubt, the self-confidence this man exudes will take him very far.

So I’m standing out front of my office building taking a couple hits off my vape and checking my Instagram, when the CEO, CFO, and Chairman of the Board come strolling out. These are white collar men who have never heard the term casual Friday, in suits I can coolly appraise around $2k and shoes meticulously shined to a mirror sheen. The Chairman (whom I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting but am impressed by his record of many years as the CEO of our music company) takes a look at me and remarks, “That’s the coolest looking guy I’ve ever seen hanging out in front of our building”.

Now my first reaction is to blush a bit and fumble my words, because I am not sure if they’re making fun of me or not. The CEO and CFO introduce me and I am promptly invited out to lunch at the cafe down the block with three of the wealthiest and most successful men I’ll probably ever meet.

I did most of the talking, though I’m wisely tight lipped about most of my past, what seems to impress them the most is the admission that I am a high school dropout who never finished community college. While these three
gentlemen hold master’s degrees in accounting and business, they are extremely eager to hear my opinion of the organization, both as an hourly wage employee and as a newcomer to Los Angeles, taking my first tip toeing steps towards discovering my own identity as a Jewish person.

“Where is the representation for culture?” is my number one question to everyone I work with. I code pages and event forms every day for the silver spoon crowd – lawyers, real estate investors, and film producers. These people are fourth generation and up of affluent Angelino society. They had valet park their Mercedes for the networking meeting – I took the bus. My question to these community leaders was this – within the Jewish community, am I simply not Jewish enough? If we are supposed to bind together as Jews in the face of adversity, does classism still exist within our own institution?

Apparently these are important questions to ask, as I now have an official meeting with them after the holidays and an invitation to join the young adults’ leadership development program. A cool guy dressed all in black who’s not afraid to ask a trio of millionaires why our organization overlooks artists and musicians seems like exactly the kind of person who needs to be in a community leadership role here in Los Angeles.

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