Do you believe you were fired unfairly? Have you been recently let-go from your company and are wondering if it was legal or allowed? Most states in the United States don’t have too many worker protections, however there are a few federal programs which can help you if you feel you were fired unfairly.
It’s the eight words that no employee ever wants to hear. The dreaded “we’re going to have to let you go” phrase is enough to make even the most capable employees’ shudder.
Unfortunately, the majority of Americans are considered “at-will” employees. This means that their employer can legally terminate their employment for no given reason at all.
Of the 80 million privately employed Americans, just 20 million of those are union members, whom have certain protections and benefits which cover unjust dismissal policies.
Although you may be employed in an at-will situation, there are some legal guidelines which provide specific framework for unjust termination. Each year in the United States, nearly 150,000 people are wrongfully terminated.
We’re going to address two major points in this article. The first being, what is considered wrongful termination? The second, what steps can you take when you have been terminated in an at-will situation?
What Is Wrongful Termination?
Wrongful or unjust termination has very specific legal framework and guidelines which must be adhered to. In order to claim wrongful termination you must be able to prove that your termination was based on one of the below factors.
- A firing in violation of federal and state anti-discrimination laws, which protect:
- Race, National Origin, Gender, and Religion
- Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers with 15 or more employees are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, national origin, gender, or religion. This discrimination includes the refusal to hire, discipline, fire, deny training to, fail to promote, demote or compensate unfairly, or harass. In addition, employers are prohibited from subtle forms of discrimination which may be utilized to weed out an individual or individuals within these protected classes.
- Equal Pay Discrimination
- The Federal Equal Pay Actrequires that any employer subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act adhere to equal pay amongst genders, notwithstanding pay differentials due to seniority, position, or merit.
- Age Discrimination
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967bars employers with 20 employees or more from discriminating against individuals 40 years old or older.
- Disability Discrimination
- The Americans With Disabilities Actbars discrimination by employers against employees’ who are disabled. This affects private employers with more than fifteen employees.
- National Origin Discrimination
- The Immigration Reform and Control Actprohibits any employer with three or more employees from discriminating against a United States citizen or intended citizen.
Other forms of unjust termination exist but may be out of the scope of exact laws. As-such, we recommend always consulting with an employment attorney if needed. Some of these additional forms are:
- Employer Violation of Written or Intended Agreements
- Although a bit vague sounding, this essentially posits that an employer whom violates a written or intended agreement with an employee and then proceeds to terminate said employee may be in violation.
- Employer Violation of Public Policy
- Employers are prohibited from terminating an employee due to a public policy. Such policies include time taken to vote, serve on a jury, or to serve in the military or National Guards.
- Employer Defames an Employee During the Termination Process
- An employer could be found at fault if they defame or disparage an employee during a termination process.
Steps to Take When You’ve Been Terminated
Many times, proving a discrimination suit is extremely difficult. However, if you believe that you have been wrongly or unjustly terminated, we highly recommend that you reach out to and speak with an employment attorney to assist you.
If you have been terminated and do not believe that you are within a protected class, then you should take the following steps.
- Remain calm and do not take any vindictive action against your employer
- Review your employment contract and all provisions within the contract
- Inquire about why you are being terminated
- Request the name of the person who decided to fire you and request to view your personnel file
- Request and negotiate your severance package
- Do not feel obliged to sign any package immediately and confirm that any package being offered is in writing
- Return all company property
Steps to Take Regarding A Severance Package
Not all employers offer severance packages to their employees. You should consult with an attorney and reference your employment contract for any provisions regarding a termination.
However, if you are presented with a severance, you should take the following steps to assist you in maximizing the overall package.
Firstly, take the time to review any package offered and do not feel obligated to sign right away. Any offers must be made in writing and you should refuse an offer that is not written.
You should then discuss the next steps with your employer. If possible, you should refuse to resign and have your employer terminate your employment. Within these negotiations, you should see if you can remain on the employers medical and dental plans until you find new employment.
Lastly, a severance package should have no stipulations regarding payout, including that it be provided until you find new employment.
Though this is a difficult time in your career, you should remain calm and levelheaded. Make sure you take the appropriate steps and responses to care for yourself and your family. Begin updating your resume and cover letter immediately and work on your LinkedIn account. Connect with former colleagues, coworkers, and managers and reach out to them on any open opportunities. You may also consider filing a wrongful termination suit against your employer.