(US employment law) It’s unpleasant to think about being fired, but it happens. What if you don’t think your employer had a valid reason to terminate you? It’s happening more often, as employers look for ways to cut their workforce and save money. Some experts estimate that 250,000 people are fired illegally or unjustly each year.
What is Wrongful Termination?
Many states have at-will employment, meaning an employer can sack the employee at any time without having to give a reason, and likewise an employee can quit at any time if he so chooses. Still, there are exceptions to this at-will concept. An employer cannot fire an employee as an act of discrimination against groups protected by law, including race, nationality, religion, sex, age, and in some jurisdictions, sexual orientation. An employer also cannot fire an employee in retaliation for being a whistle-blower.
An employee can’t be fired for refusing to commit an illegal act or for taking time off they’re legally allowed under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
If an employee is under contract, the employee can only be fired for reasons outlined in the contract. However, such contracts are rare these days, as many include an “escape clause” that indicates either party can end the relationship without consequence.
An employee may also be able to claim wrongful termination if the employer’s termination policies are not followed. Many employers will outline a procedure that must be followed before terminating an employee, which may include warnings in the form of write-ups or counseling sessions. If there are procedures in place and they are not followed, an employee may claim wrongful termination.
I Think I May Be Fired Soon – What Should I Do?
If you suspect you may be fired in the near future, now is the time to take action. The most important thing you can do is document everything. Keep copies of any write-ups you may receive, and keep detailed notes of any meetings or counseling sessions you are asked to attend. If at all possible, make an audio recording of these conversations. If it’s not possible to make recordings, write down everything you can recall as soon as you can after the conversation, while it’s still fresh in your mind.
Help! I’ve Been Fired What Do I Do Now?
Were you expecting this? If so, you probably have some documentation built up. If, however, your termination came as a surprise, you may not have much, or anything, documented. If that’s the case, take the time right now to write down everything you can. Gather any and all records you have from your employer, including records of your hiring and termination, and your pay stubs. If anyone witnessed the actions that led to your termination, get statements from them documenting what they observed.
Time is of the essence when it comes to filing a wrongful termination suit. First, you will need to file a claim with your state’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as this is often a requirement for an attorney to take your case. The EEOC will investigate on your behalf, and if they find in your favor, they will require your employer to remedy your losses.
You can also contact an attorney and file a civil lawsuit, though in most cases it is required that you have exhausted your remedies through the EEOC before filing a civil suit.
Jennifer Carrigan is a freelance writer on behalf of http://www.germany-lawyer.org/ where Thomas Willers can help if you are an American living in Germany and face legal trouble.