Wrongful Termination Claims
If you have been laid off or fired recently, and you believe that you lost your job for an unlawful reason, you may be able to bring a claim for wrongful termination against your former employer.
What Makes a Termination Wrongful?
The term "wrongful termination" means that an employer has fired or laid off an employee for illegal reasons, such as:
- Firing in violation of federal and state anti-discrimination laws
- Firing in violation of oral and written employment agreements
- Firing an employee for "blowing the whistle" on the employer for violating or planning to violate a state or federal law (retaliation)
- Firing an employee who has complained of sexual harassment, discrimination, or creating a hostile workplace (retaliation)
Things like reduction in workforce, going out of business, poor performance, or an action that is the fault of the employee are all legal reasons to fire or lay off an employee.
If you think you may want to bring a legal claim for wrongful termination, read the article Do I Need a Wrongful Termination Attorney? It explains how an attorney can help.
There are a variety of potential legal remedies available if your employer is found to have wrongfully terminated your employment. And sometimes there is more than one wrongdoer who may be held accountable for damages.
An employer may have to pay damages based on the employee's lost wages and emotional distress. The employer may have to pay punitive damages to the terminated employee.
If the employee has not yet been officially released, an attorney may be able to negotiate reinstatement or an appropriate severance package that includes adequate compensation and unemployment benefits while the employee hunts for a new job.
Tips That Can Help After Being Fired
Although it may be a shock, you need a cool head to think through your next steps. There are a number of things you may want to do immediately to document what has occurred. You may need this information to bring a legal claim.
- If you have an employment contract, become familiar with the provisions of the agreement. Review promises made by your employer and gather evidence of those promises.
- Ask why you were terminated if you were not told. Find out who decided to fire you.
- Request to view your personnel file.
- Gather any and all documents ever provided to you by your employer. Save all e-mails and text messages between you and your employer.
- Request and negotiate a severance package. Confirm all agreements regarding your termination and severance in writing.
- Obtain witness statements from prior coworkers who might have witnessed wrongful conduct.
- Return all company property and follow standard post-employment procedures.
Also, see FindLaw's Guide to Job Loss.
An employer is not required to give severance pay unless an employment contract requires it, or the employee handbook indicates the employer has a policy of doing so. However, if an employee has a potential legal claim for wrongful termination, they may be able to negotiate a severance package in exchange for a promise to waive a legal claim against the employer.
An attorney can advise you whether a severance package or a wrongful termination claim will make more sense in your situation. If you determine that a severance package is the best course, here are a few tips:
- Do not automatically accept the employer's first offer. Take time to think over any offers.
- Ask your employer to confirm any terms in writing.
- If possible, refuse an employer's offer that you resign instead of being terminated (so you can potentially collect unemployment).
- Try to stay on the payroll as long as possible.
- Negotiate with the employer to continue providing medical and dental coverage while you are receiving severance pay.
- Make sure that the severance package is in no way contingent on new employment. You should receive the full payment you deserve for being wrongly terminated, regardless of whether you quickly find a new job or not.
Talk to a Lawyer Before Filing a Wrongful Termination Claim
If you've been wrongly fired, you may have rights to severance pay, damages, and/or unemployment compensation. Speak with an experienced employment law attorney to understand your rights.
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