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Even when you suspect it may be coming, losing your job can pack a traumatic punch.
Tens of thousands of workers in the high-tech industry have had that experience in the last few months, and economists warn that a recession could be coming. So, maybe it's a good idea now to think about what you should do if it happens to you.
The first thing you need to know is that in the U.S., employers generally have great freedom to terminate employees. Nearly all jobs are considered "at-will," meaning that an employer can fire someone or terminate a job for any reason — or for no reason whatsoever — as long as it's not discriminatory.
So what, exactly, does "discriminatory" mean? Federal law provides answers.
If you think your termination is the result of discrimination, however, just suspecting that you fit one of the protected categories isn't enough to warrant legal action. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, you will need to show that the discrimination is broader. This is called "disparate impact" discrimination and means the company is discriminating against a protected group by putting disproportionate numbers of them in the terminated group.
There are several other ways, however, to claim that an employer has committed unlawful termination.
You may be stunned when your employer hands you a pink slip, but before you pack up your things, give some thought to a few things:
If you think your termination was an illegal violation of your rights under federal law, you need to first file a charge with the EEOC before you can file a lawsuit against your employer. The charge, which you must file within 180 days of the alleged discrimination, requests that the EEOC take remedial action. You can't take legal action against your employer under federal law until the EEOC completes its investigation and issues a "right to sue."
It's also important to remember that employment termination laws vary from state to state. Yours may have stronger provisions than the federal protections listed above.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.