Careers advice

What to do after you've been fired in NZ

Everything you do now needs to build towards your next move.

Being fired from a job can be a highly stressful and destabilising experience.

However, you need to know how to respond to a dismissal in order to start your next job hunt in the strongest possible position. Some of the world’s most successful people, including the likes of Steve Jobs and Lady Gaga, were fired – and things will improve, although we appreciate it might not feel that way right now.

From the moment you get the news, you need to be building towards your next step. Here’s our advice.

What do we mean by “being fired”?

First things first, let’s nail down some definitions.

It’s unlikely you’ll see the words “fired” or “sacked” used in any official documents, like employment agreements, so it’s important to understand the different terms associated with losing a job.

There are several reasons an employer might want to dismiss a staff member, such as:

  • Misconduct or serious misconduct: the key difference to understand between ‘misconduct’ and ‘serious misconduct’ is that you can’t be fired for an isolated incident of misconduct, whereas you can with serious misconduct.
  • Performance issues: an employer can dismiss staff for poor performance, but only if proper procedures are followed. More on this below.
  • Incompatibility: this refers to an irreparable breakdown in relationships between colleagues, or between an employee and their manager.
  • Illness or injury: these are often sensitive and complex situations, and the employer needs to consider many different factors before making a termination.
  • Trial period: NZ companies who are eligible to use 90 day trial periods can dismiss employees during this timeframe if things aren’t working out. Importantly, notice is still required.

There a variety of reasons why you could be let go from your job.

The final reason commonly associated with job loss is a redundancy. However, this situation is slightly different, as redundancy refers to the disestablishment of a role, rather than the dismissal of an individual. Redundancy rights in NZ are quite different, so we won’t be covering this here.

For all the above reasons, an employer needs to follow a fair process before dismissing a member of staff. In particular, when it comes to misconduct or performance problems, the government has some suggested steps for business leaders to follow before dismissing people on these grounds..

In specific circumstances, such as particularly serious examples of misconduct, an employer can use what’s known as a “summary dismissal”. This means the member of staff has to leave immediately, with no paid notice period. However, even here, the employer still needs a good reason.

I’ve been fired from a job, now what?

Here are the steps you should follow:

1. Ask for a reason

Unless you were dismissed during a 90 day trial period, in New Zealand you have the right to ask your boss for a written reason as to why. If you were in a trial period, your former employer still needs to provide a statement if asked, but this can be verbal.

We recommend asking for an explanation so you can:

  • Determine if your employer has acted fairly: if you think your employer hasn’t met their obligations around your dismissal, a written statement allows you to research the steps they should have followed. From here, you can work out if you want to bring a personal grievance claim.
  • Learn from the experience: at the very least, you can avoid repeating the mistakes that led to your dismissal in your next job.

2. Make sure you understand what’s happening

Re-read your employment agreement, and make sure to engage with your employer about what’s occurred.

For example, apart from cases of summary dismissal, you’ll be entitled to your notice period, or pay in lieu. Be clear on when your last day will be, whether or not the company is expecting you to work your notice period, and when your final pay will come through.

It’s worth noting that even if you're summarily dismissed, you’re still entitled to any annual holiday days you haven’t taken.

Talk to your boss about what's happened and make sure you understand the process.

3. Leave on the best possible terms

You’ll likely be feeling a mixture of anger, sadness and concern about being fired. However, wherever possible, you want to try and leave on good terms. This means thinking about what to say when you’ve been fired – if you want to vent, do this in front of friends or family, not your boss or colleagues.

Why’s this important? Even if you were fired, an employer can still supply a neutral, or even positive reference. This is particularly true in instances where the employer knows you really tried, but were unable to carry out all your duties. Such references will help with your next job hunt.

Bonus tip: unless you’re being dismissed for something very serious, it’s worth asking if there are any other openings at the company for you.o. If you had a good relationship with your manager or peers, and there’s something available that better suits your skills, this could be an easy solution.

4. Take care of yourself

As the news sinks in, it’s important to look after yourself. Talking to friends, family or professionals can be a great way to process the different emotional stages you’re likely to experience after a job loss.

Everyone copes with these situations in different ways, and it’s important to realise that feeling angry or upset are perfectly normal reactions.

5. Start looking for new jobs

Once you’re ready to start your next job hunt, there are a few important steps to follow:

  • Update your CV: make sure it’s up-to-date with your most recent skills and experiences so employers know what you've got to offer. However, you don’t need to mention being fired on your CV, or cover letter.
  • Update your Trade Me Jobs Profile: with so much recruitment taking place online, it makes sense to have a professional digital presence. A Trade Me Jobs Profile can allow recruiters and employers to approach you, even if you haven’t seen their job ads.
  • Do some interview prep: you may well need to talk about being fired in your job interview, so make sure you know how to approach this sensitive subject.

6. Believe in yourself

Being fired can knock your confidence, but it’s important not to lose faith in your ability to nail your next job search.

Take time to regroup, then regroup for your comeback.