Several times over the course of my career as an employment coach, I’ve had clients tell me they were forced to resign their job or risk being fired. And it happened so quickly they made major mistakes that cost them dearly. Even if they secretly wanted to quit, they weren’t ready to move on without a new job in place. And what they didn’t understand, is that a forced resignation is the same thing as an involuntary termination. Employers know this, which is why it is often done in haste.

Companies try to force a resignation for several reasons. They don’t want the hassle of firing you, especially if they don’t have a good enough reason, such as theft, substance abuse, poor performance, or unreliability. They also don’t want to be liable for unemployment compensation. Because the longer it takes you to find a new job, the more it costs them every month. Plus employers get penalized if they fire too many people. The state charges a higher premium for UI if there’s a high number of displaced workers collecting benefits.

So what’s the best course of action if your employer asks you to sign a letter of resignation against your will?

1.  Don’t sign anything immediately without research. There are plenty of websites with great information. Get your employer to tell you why they want you gone. Tell them you need time to process it. If they fire you anyway, at least you’re eligible for unemployment benefits. But at this point they are giving you an option to resign.

2. Try and negotiate the terms of your resignation. How long do you think it will take you to find a new job? Did you leave a good job for this one? Did you move your entire household halfway across the country for this employer? You can ask for a longer severance, continued health benefits, a good reference, payment for job search services, or even uncontested unemployment benefits. Your employer obviously wants you gone, so you may have an advantage.

3. If they won’t negotiate with you and are still insisting on your resignation, state in the letter that you are being forced to resign in lieu of being terminated. Don’t just sign a template they type up. If you have to, write it in. Make a copy for yourself, and apply for unemployment benefits anyway. They may contest it, but many states will side with workers who are involuntarily terminated. However you’ll need proof. Whatever you sign, you are entitled to a copy. They know that, but may not share that info with you.

4. If you don’t already have them (and you should!) request a copy of your annual evaluations. You should always maintain proof of your performance, along with any memos, or changes in job duties, just in case it is later disputed.

5. Contact an attorney who specializes in employment law for the best advice. Remember though, if you sue your employer, it may be very difficult to find a new job.

6. After you leave, check your references using a reputable firm such as Allison and Taylor. It’s not in their best interest to badmouth you for fear of a lawsuit. Legally, they can if what they are saying is true, but most HR Directors understand the amount of energy involved in an employment-related suit and don’t want to go there.

+Legal disclaimer. I am not an attorney, so always contact an employment lawyer for the best advice. Allison and Taylor is a trusted affiliate partner of 1st Rate Resumes.