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When you lose your job because of your own performance or behavior, your first instinct may be to just pack your things and leave with your tail between your legs. Once the initial shock wears off, though, it’s time to think about what happens next. If getting fired was due to a one-time mistake, or if your performance was generally good up to the point you were let go, you may be able to apologize and get your job back. If you opt to go this route, you need to show remorse, be prepared to make your case, and have a plan for improvement should you be welcomed back to the company.
The Initial Meeting
When you first receive the news of your firing, you’re likely to feel a range of emotions, from sadness and anxiety to fear. However, it’s important to maintain a professional and calm demeanor. Listen carefully to your boss’s reasoning for letting you go before you respond. Avoid becoming defensive, and instead pay attention to what he or she is saying. Once you’ve heard all the information, ask if the termination is negotiable. Sincerely apologize to your boss for your behavior, and ask if there is any way that he or she will reconsider the decision. Don't beg, but communicate earnestly and honestly that you want to stay, and that you will improve. While there is no guarantee that you will receive another chance, by showing remorse you have a better chance of ending the meeting on good terms.
Send a Letter
If you cannot get your job back after apologizing in person, write a letter to your boss after you’ve taken some time to cool down and consider the reasons you were terminated. The letter should reiterate your apology, specifically mentioning what you’re apologizing for and why you know it was wrong. Don’t make excuses or pass blame; take responsibility for your actions, and explain how you will improve.
Your letter should also detail, with quantifiable evidence, your contributions to the company and why you believe you’re a valuable member of the team. Remind your boss of your accomplishments and what you’ve brought to the table. If your termination was due to performance issues, acknowledge your deficiencies and propose a plan for correcting them. Finally, ask for your job back. Reiterate your apology; thank your boss for the opportunity, and request an in-person meeting to discuss your employment within a few days.
Although most employment is “at will” – meaning either party can end employment at any time and for virtually any reason – there are cases of wrongful termination, as defined by law. If you are let go due to an exception to the at-will rule – essentially, illegally fired – then you can get your job back or sue your employer for wrongful termination. Wrongful termination only applies in very specific circumstances, such as when you are let go because of discrimination, whistle-blowing, or in violation of public policy (i.e., fired for having to serve jury duty.) If you had a contract with the employer (either written or implied), you were fired in retaliation for a specific action or your employer failed to act in good faith, you may also have a case of wrongful termination. If you think you were fired illegally, it’s best to consult an employment attorney and proceed on their advice.
When the Answer Is No
Even when you show remorse, emphasize your value to the company and have a plan for improvement, your boss’s decision may be final, and the answer to your request may be “No.” If you have pled your case and made your request in writing, graciously accept the outcome – and move on to new opportunities.
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- Apology Letters: Apology Letter to Get Job Back
- Forbes.com: Fired? Not So Fast; How To Negotiate Your Job Back; Victoria Pynchon; July 2010
- American Management Association: Apologizing
- Nolo: Wrongful Termination: Was Your Firing Illegal?
- Forbes: Why Getting Fired Like A Pro Is Always In Your Best Interest
An adjunct instructor at Central Maine Community College, Kristen Hamlin is also a freelance writer and editor, specializing in careers, business, education, and lifestyle topics. The author of Graduate! Everything You Need to Succeed After College (Capital Books), which covers everything from career and financial advice to furnishing your first apartment, her work has also appeared in Young Money, Lewiston Auburn Magazine, USA Today, and a variety of online outlets. She's also been quoted as a career expert in many newspapers and magazines, including Cosmopolitan and Parade. She has a B.A. in Communication from Stonehill College, and a Master of Liberal Studies in Creative Writing from the University of Denver.