Getting terminated from your job can put a massive amount of stress on you, both emotionally and financially. Being wrongfully terminated from your job can be even more stressful. Wrongful termination is the illegal dismissal of an employee, and even if you live in an at-will state, you may have a case. If you believe you've been unfairly dismissed, here are thesteps to take after a wrongful termination.
First and foremost, you need to stay calm and professional if you believe you've been wrongfully terminated. It's understandable that you'd be upset, but lashing out can put you in a difficult spot in the long run. Even though it might feel good in the moment, threats, screaming, and rude or foul language can hurt your case. The employer can easily point to how you behaved and use that as evidence for why they fired you, even if that's not the truth and you never acted that way in the past.
Not only can lashing out put your case at risk, but acts of revenge can easily land you in a civil or criminal lawsuit, depending on the severity of the retaliation. Keep in mind that—at this point—nothing you say or do will likely change your former employer’s mind, and being rehired by the people you feel wronged by can make things even more complex. By staying calm, you'll have a much clearer mind later on when you have to recall the events, which we'll discuss later in this article.
As mentioned previously, wrongful termination occurs when someone is fired for illegal reasons, usually for discriminatory reasons or as a form of retaliation for engaging in a protected act. Protected acts include but are not limited to taking time off, engaging in employee benefits, and reporting illegal activity. What does retaliation have to do with wrongful termination? In these cases, it's likely that your employer wasn't too happy about your engagement with these protected acts, i.e., whistleblowing.
However, there is another side to this coin. You must genuinely ask yourself whether you were wrongfully terminated or whether there's a possibility you were clouded by the emotions of being fired. Is there was a breach of contract you were unaware of? Did you consistently meet the expectations of your job? Was there some form of falling out, dispute, or issue you were responsible for?
In these cases, it's best to thoroughly review your employee contract, especially if you didn't receive an answer as to why you were fired. If you haven't, you can request in writing the reason why you were fired, as some employers won't inform you until you ask. You should also look over your employer's hiring, firing, and disciplinary rules, not only to see if you've accidentally breached the rules but also to ensure they haven't as well.
If you haven't already written a list of events that occurred on the day you were fired or any other events that stand out, do so now. Your recollection will become more legally valid the clearer it is. For example, if you write a document on your computer listing the events, and the day you wrote it was marked a year after the incident occurred, your memory’s validity may come into question. At this point, write down a timeline of what occurred. This also helps you later down the line if you end up on the witness stand or are questioned at some point.
Once you've done this, it's time to start gathering as much relevant evidence as you can. Any physical or digital correspondence, reviews, contracts, or witness statements should be kept in a private file close to your person. Ultimately, your goal is to prove one of two things depending on your claim—a pattern of behavior or temporal proximity. While these aren't the only ways to prove your case, they're the most common and have the strongest standing ground.
Finding evidence of a pattern of behavior, such as aggression, discrimination, or unprofessionalism, can prove there is a larger issue at hand that goes beyond just you. If you believe you were fired in retaliation for engaging in a protected activity, then you would need to prove temporal proximity. This would be the time between the protected act and the day of termination.
For example, suppose you report a supervisor for sexual harassment to HR and get fired by your employer a week later. In that case, that is proof of temporal proximity and correlation of events.
Once you've followed all these steps, you're ready to file a complaint. It's best to do this as soon as possible, as some institutions have particular time windows before you're barred from filing a complaint. For example, the EEOC only allows you to file a complaint within the first 180 days of the incident. Depending on the complaint, you'll need to reach out to the appropriate organization. Whistleblower complaints should be filed with the US Department of Labor, while retaliation and discrimination complaints should be filed with the EEOC.
Employment law is incredibly complex, and without the proper knowledge and assistance, you may miss out on compensation or lose a case you should've won. Employment organizations can also help you determine whether your case holds water and prevent you from wasting unnecessary time and money. For example, investigations done by the EEOC can take more than a year, only for it to result in a right-to-sue notice.
This means they found no evidence of illegal activity, but you have the right to sue within the next 90 days. Not only can that feel like a massive waste of time and energy, but at that point, most lawyers won't take a case with only 90 days to prepare. They can also walk you through filing a complaint and sending it to the right organization. The EEOC and other organization agents don't represent you and don't have your best interest in mind, but an attorney does.
Remember that employment law is complex, and you shouldn't have to navigate it all on your own. Knowing the steps you need to take after wrongful termination and hiring a wrongful termination lawyer can help you reclaim your power and get you the compensation you deserve.