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posted: 2/3/2013 7:04 AM

Work Advice: "You're fired. Get back to work."

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Karla L. Miller writes an advice column on navigating the modern workplace. This week's questions deal with a sudden firing and how to make amends after telling a lie at work.

Q: After almost two decades of solid reviews, promotions and raises, I was suddenly fired. We agreed I would stay at work and try to "work it out without the attorneys" first. Part of my separation agreement may require me to continue to work for a time for the boss who fired me. I have strong negative feelings about my soon-to-be-former boss and am struggling to be professional while keeping my dignity. I have seen an attorney privately and may have a case for wrongful termination, although it's not the strongest. Any suggestions?

A: Yeah, I'll bet "we" wanted to go the no-lawyer route. Granted, going full legal guns blazing would probably impoverish you to no avail, but I'm guessing management was not kindly looking to save you a few bucks.

So, you were smart to consult an attorney on your own. You'd be even smarter to have that attorney advise you from the sidelines while you hammer out your separation details; that's what Elaine Fitch -- of Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch in Washington -- has done for a number of workers. Her big tip: Don't sign or agree to anything your attorney hasn't seen.

My tip: Figure out what's in this unbalanced setup for them and for you. If they're supposedly firing you for cause, not just "downsizing," why keep you around? If they need your skills, maybe that gives you leverage to request that you not be forced to report directly to your own ax man.

If you can't afford to walk away, remind yourself of the benefits of playing along -- e.g., a continued paycheck -- while you plan your exit. Plus, your helping with the transition could be a selling point to your next employer. When treading scummy waters, it's easier to keep your head up if you know there's something in the deal for you.

Q: I had a fender-bender in the office parking lot with someone from another department (who was understandably steamed). First, I tried to say I didn't notice -- and then I actually said someone else was driving! It was ridiculous and pathetic, but I was scared, and this came out before I even knew what I was saying. I gave the other person my insurance information. I don't think there will be any repercussions for my job, but I feel like a jerk. Should I try to make amends?

A: Dents can be fixed. The impression you made on your fellow worker goes deeper -- and word could get around. A sincere "I've been feeling like a jerk for the way I reacted" might smooth things out. But first, check with your insurance agent to make sure you're not smoothing your way into a legal pothole.

• Karla L. Miller has written for and edited tax publications for 16 years, most recently for the accounting firm KPMG's Washington National Tax office.

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