One of the more direct questions you’ll answer on the SF-86 security clearance application is if you’ve ever been fired from a job. It’s the kind of question that makes most respondents pretty defensive (how can I answer this question – they’ll have no idea what a jerk my boss was?!). But like everything related to the SF-86, it’s important to take the question in context.

If you respond ‘yes’ to being fired or leaving voluntarily after being told you would be, you’ll have a chance to explain your situation. You don’t need to talk your way around an issue. If you were fired for cause, simply say so. Use the ‘additional comments’ section to explain what happened, but don’t feel compelled to justify yourself. Keep in mind the security clearance decision process considers the ‘whole person.‘ No single issue (other than ongoing drug use) will cause a clearance denial.

“I should be able to listen to the radio while I’m collating…”

A security clearance investigator will follow-up with the employer involved to get their side of the story. And don’t expect them to just contact the person listed on your background investigation. An investigator digging into a TS/SCI security clearance background investigation, in particular, will contact other sources within the company, so don’t think you can hide an incident by providing a coworker rather than a supervisor as a reference.

Keep in mind that passage of time is key for all potential negative issues in your security clearance background investigation. If you were fired, even for cause, it will likely not be a problem if it was a one-time issue or many years ago. If you were fired for violating a company policy six months ago, that’s likely another story.

In today’s volatile job market, it’s important to remember that being let go from a contract or fired for company reasons (not punitive ones) clearly has no bearing on your security clearance eligibility. If you currently hold a security clearance and are fired from a job, your clearance will remain ‘current’ and can be reinstated by your next employer for up to two years (assuming your investigation hasn’t expired).

Don’t let that one time you were fired from Taco Bell for giving all of your friends free Doritos Locos¬†give you nightmares. There are plenty of things to be worried about during the security clearance process – ¬†having been fired once isn’t one of them.

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Lindy Kyzer is the editor of She loves the NISPPAC, social media, and the U.S. military. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email Interested in writing for Learn more here.