You got called into the office and met your worst fears head on; you're being let go. And the reason for the termination is something you know just isn't right. What do you do? Are you powerless? How do you handle the situation? Here are the steps you need to take. (For tips to help you identify you are going to be called in the office, check out 5 Signs You're About To Be Fired.)
Keep Calm and Carry On
First things first, don't panic. Flipping out, lashing out, ranting about what you'll do, sending angry emails or venting to (former) coworkers will all hurt your case, not help it. Sure, your emotions are high, understandably so, but letting those emotions drive you to panicked behavior will only make you look bad.
Find a safe way to vent those frustrations; talk to your spouse or trusted family members, but keep your discussion out of the office and away from colleagues. Write things down, but write it in a journal, not in an email.
Do Some Legal Research
There is no blanket set of wrongful termination laws, rather there are various state and federal laws dealing with employment issues. You need to research the particular laws in your state as well as the broader federal laws which deal with termination issues.
According to FindLaw.com, there are several unacceptable reasons to terminate employees. These include
- Discrimination: an employer cannot fire an employee on the basis of the employee's race, gender, national origin, disability, religion or age.
- Retaliation: an employer cannot fire an employee for "asserting his or her rights."
- Refusal to take a lie detector test: an employer cannot fire an employee because an employee refuses to take a lie detector test.
- Alien status: an employer cannot fire an employee on the basis of his or her alien status, as long as the employee is legally able to work in the U.S.
- Employee complaints about OSHA violations: an employer cannot fire an employee because an employee makes a complaint about an OSHA violation, which often includes failure to meet certain safety standards or health standards.
- Violations of public policy: though determined on a state-by-state basis, most public policy laws prohibit an employer from firing an employee because an employee a) refuses to commit an illegal act, b) complains about an employer's illegal act, or c) exercises his or her legal rights.
Build a Solid Case
Once you've figured out what legal options you do have, it's time to see if you've got a strong case. Start by writing out a time line of events as well as you can remember. Put down all the details, even the ones that seem unimportant. This is your map of events, and it will help you figure out where to go next.
Pull together all the evidence in your possession: computer files, memos, any tangible documents or other items that pertain to the situation. (For tips to make you more valuable at work, see 5 Ways To Be Irreplaceable At Work.)
Get Legal Representation
Now it's time to get some help. Getting a good lawyer is important in dealing with a wrongful termination case; there are many law firms which specialize in handling employment related cases such as wrongful termination. Due to the financial strain of being terminated, many lawyers who do take wrongful termination cases will agree to represent you on a contingency fee. A contingency fee basis means that you pay no (or limited) attorney's fees up front; instead, your lawyer agrees to a certain percentage of the settlement, if one is made.
Have a Plan for the Future
However your legal action turns out, you'll want to put together a plan for how to explain the whole situation to future employers. Talk to your lawyer about how to word a brief version of the events, and then write it down. You want to share enough information that potential employers understand what happened, but you don't want to tread on the thin ice of libel by naming names or sharing details that should be kept confidential.
The Bottom Line
When you're dealing with wrongful termination, take it one step at a time. Be thorough in each step, as more information to support your side of the story can only help. (To help you plan for life after being let go, read Planning For Unemployment.)
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