Is It Better to Quit or Be Fired?

Consider your next move, including whether you will have a job lined up or need financial support during a period of transition.
Taryn Phaneuf
By Taryn Phaneuf 
Updated
Edited by Laura McMullen

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The answer to whether it’s better to quit or be fired from your job depends on the circumstances.

Many Americans live paycheck to paycheck. So, likely the most important factor to consider is how you’d cope financially with a job loss. But it’s not the only one. Whether you quit or are fired also can impact you personally and professionally.

Here’s what you need to know if you’re facing this dilemma.

You may be eligible for unemployment benefits

Your eligibility for unemployment benefits depends more on why you left your job than how. You may be allowed to collect unemployment benefits if…

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You’re fired for poor performance. State rules differ, but generally, if you’re fired because you’re not performing well, you’d likely be able to collect unemployment, according to Nolo, an online legal encyclopedia. Serious misconduct (like theft or other crimes) would probably make you ineligible for benefits.

You’re laid off. Getting laid off is another example of leaving a job involuntarily. But instead of it being because of personal performance, companies lay off workers when they’re eliminating jobs altogether for business purposes.

People who are laid off are eligible for unemployment benefits. Often, companies also provide severance packages to employees during a layoff.

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You quit for an acceptable personal reason. Generally, states don’t provide unemployment benefits to workers who quit their jobs, except in particular circumstances, according to Nolo.

You could still be eligible for unemployment if you quit your job to:

  • Care for an immediate family member.

  • Escape domestic abuse.

  • Start a new job that didn’t pan out.

  • Move because of your spouse’s job.

It’s also likely you’d qualify for unemployment benefits if you quit because your work situation is intolerable and leaving is the only solution. That could be because of persistent harassment or unsafe working conditions, among other reasons that merit quitting without another job lined up.

This circumstance is legally referred to as constructive discharge and it can be classified as wrongful termination, according to Nolo.

Potential employers may ask about it

Getting laid off or leaving your job voluntarily likely won’t raise eyebrows during a job interview. But a record of getting fired may be another story.

If you were fired, it’s better not to bring it up unless you’re asked directly, says Emily Frank, a Denver-based career counselor and coach who helps clients through her private practice, the Career Catalyst. If you are asked about it, she recommends being honest but general about the circumstances.

If you can, note that you are “eligible for rehire” at your previous employer — a phrase that sends a signal that you didn’t do something egregious or illegal, Frank says.

You can find out whether you’re eligible for rehire by asking your former employer’s human resources department. It’s an awkward conversation but provides good information to have in your job search.

Getting hired quickly somewhere else, even if it’s not in your chosen field, can go a long way to assuage a future employer’s feelings of doubt, Frank says.

“What you're doing is proving to future employers that you are employable,” she says, “that you're diligent and hardworking and pleasant enough to be around.”

Expect an emotional response

Whether you quit or are fired, you likely will feel a complicated set of emotions after leaving your job. Quitting can feel empowering, which is why it’s so tempting an option despite the financial ramifications.

Getting fired, on the other hand, takes an emotional toll because it can feel like failure, Frank says. “Most people I have worked with wind up expressing that they wish they’d left before that happened.”

A beefed up emergency fund could give you the freedom to make the first move and help you skip some of the emotional turmoil.

If you do wind up getting laid off or fired, consider that you’re far from alone. Roughly 40% of Americans have been laid off or fired at least once, according to a study by The Harris Poll, a market research firm.

It’s OK to take time to feel grief or bitterness or anger over the end of a job. But then take action: Apply quickly for unemployment benefits since it could take time for them to start, and approach people in your network about what your next opportunities could be.

Those kinds of proactive steps can help you start to feel good again, Frank says.