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Your Rights When Losing or Leaving a Job

Your Rights When Losing or Leaving a Job

There is a lot of uncertainty when you quit or lose your job. You are probably worried about whether your employer will give you your final paycheck. You may wonder if you qualify for unemployment benefits.

It's natural to have these questions. The problem is that every situation is different. Your rights under employment law depend on several things. You typically can't immediately collect unemployment compensation when you quit your job. People who get fired for gross misconduct don't usually qualify for benefits.

The circumstances surrounding your job termination have a significant impact on your rights. Your employer may refuse to pay you outstanding bonuses and commissions. You may have had an employment contract that outlined your rights upon termination.

Here, we'll discuss your rights when you leave your former employer. We'll discuss the federal laws that govern employee termination. We'll also briefly touch on what the Department of Labor says about these rights.

What Questions Will You Have When You Leave a Job?

It's one thing when you leave a job after only a few months. It's another if you worked for a company for years only to experience a wrongful termination. In this scenario, it's best to seek legal advice immediately after you leave your job.

Some of the frequently asked questions (FAQs) workers have upon leaving their jobs are:

  • Will your employer give you the overtime pay you deserve?
  • Do you qualify for unemployment insurance?
  • If your company lays you off, are you eligible for unemployment?
  • Will you still have access to health care, or will you lose your health insurance?
  • Will your manager discuss your termination with your coworkers?
  • How long will the company hold on to your final paycheck?
  • If you start a new job, do you lose the right to file a wrongful termination lawsuit?

These are critical questions. Depending on how things end with your employer, you may need to contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). For example, if you need to file a claim about a violation of your employee rights, they can help. The same is true if you left your job because they denied coverage under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Your Rights Under Your Employment Contract

Most people don't have an employment agreement with their company. However, just because you don't have a written contract doesn't mean an implied contract doesn't exist.

Under the law, all employment is contractual. This means there is an agreement between you and your employer under which you perform services, and they compensate you for these services.

Most employees don't have a formal written contract. Some may receive an offer letter, which they sign and return to their employer. Many employees reach a verbal agreement with their employer. You can determine the nature and details of this agreement by looking at the employment relationship.

The critical question is this: What did you and your employer agree to do, and has the employer lived up to their end of the bargain?

What Are My Rights Under the Contract?

Under most agreements, you agree to perform services for your employer, and they agree to pay you certain wages and benefits. Labor laws dictate that your final pay is due on your last day of work or soon after. If your employer fails or refuses to pay you promptly, you have a claim for such pay.

Your employer may have also agreed to pay you benefits such as unused vacation pay or severance pay. Again, you have a claim if your employer fails or refuses to pay you as agreed.

Do you have a contractual claim as a result of the termination itself? That's a more difficult question. Some written employment contracts provide that an employer may only terminate the agreement for good cause. You have a claim if they terminate your contract for some other reason.

Some employees work under a union contract — or collective bargaining agreement — between the employer and the union. Under many such contracts, employers can only fire their workers for good cause. If you have such an agreement, you may have a grievance if the employer fires you without good reason.

What happens if you don't have a contract or collective bargaining agreement that limits your employer's right to terminate you? What are your contractual rights? These questions require a brief discussion of at-will employment.

What Is At-Will Employment?

Most workers in the U.S. are at-will employees. Montana is the only state where workers are not presumed to be at will. This means that your employer has the right to fire you for any reason (or no reason). They don't have to give you notice, and they can fire you at any time.

Being an at-will employee also means you can quit your job anytime and without notice. Giving your employer two weeks' notice is customary, but the law doesn't require you to do this.

Whether you leave your job willingly or not, you have rights. Just because you're an at-will worker doesn't mean your employer can mistreat you.

At-will employment means you and the employer are each free to end the job anytime. This means the employer can terminate you for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason. It also means the employer does not have to give you advance notice of the termination.

If you are an at-will employee, and your employer fires you from your job, you will not have a contractual claim for the termination. This is true even if your mom, your best friend, and the clerk at the corner convenience store all agree that your termination was unfair.

Your Rights Under Federal and State Laws

The fact that you may not have a claim for breach of contract doesn't mean you do not have a claim. You may be able to prove your employer violated other rights when they fired you.

Many federal and state laws limit an employer's right to terminate its employees. For example, you may have a claim if your employer fired you because:

  • Of your race, color, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, pregnancy, national origin, age, disability, or other protected characteristic
  • You met with a union representative or encouraged other employees to support a union
  • You complained about unsafe working conditions
  • You reported illegal activities in the workplace
  • You asserted the above rights or other rights that you have under the law

You might have many claims, depending on the state where you worked and the circumstances under which your employer fired you. You may also have a claim if your employer forced you to quit because of a protected characteristic or activity.

To find out if you have a claim under these federal or state laws, contact an experienced employment lawyer.

What Can I Do To Protect My Rights?

While working for your employer, keep any materials relevant to your employee rights. This includes:

  • Employee handbooks
  • Memos
  • Copies of employer policies and procedures
  • Orientation and training materials
  • Written work evaluations and performance reviews

Be careful when taking documents from your employer, especially anything designated as confidential or for internal use only. Your employer may sue you for wrongfully obtaining those documents. Some whistleblower statutes protect against this, but caution is essential.

You can also keep a work journal that records significant employment events, such as:

  • Performance reviews
  • Commendations
  • Reprimands and write-ups
  • Salary changes
  • Emails regarding your performance, appraisals, and overtime approval
  • Informal comments of approval or disapproval

Always record these events' date, time, location, and who was present. Even if you don't want to challenge the legality of your firing, you may need to show your employer terminated you for reasons that didn't involve misconduct. These materials can help immensely with that.

Always document the circumstances under which you lost your job. This includes who you talked to, what they said, and any accompanying conduct by both parties. Emails help preserve a record of employment communications. Maintain copies of these emails.

Finally, ask to see your personnel file. Most states require employers to make this available to you on request. Copy, review, and inventory your file. This helps document whether the company added items to the file later to justify your termination after the fact.

Have an Attorney Help You With Your Claim

If you believe your employer violated your rights when you left your job, you need help. Proving that your employer is liable for wrongful termination or withholding pay or benefits is challenging. Your chances of recovering what you deserve are better if you have an employment lawyer.

Your attorney will review your claim and help determine how best to proceed. Visit's employment attorney directory to find a lawyer near you.

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Contact a qualified employment attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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