I just got fired!
Sometimes the only thing worse than being on the job ... is getting kicked off the job.
Every year, more than 20 million U.S. workers get the pink slip—either laid off or fired. Sometimes it’s because your company is losing money or your agency got hit with a budget cut. Sometimes the work is seasonal (department stores usually don’t need a Santa Claus past December). Or maybe an employee was just plain lousy. But often workers are victims of wrongful terminations.
Of course, “wrongful termination” means more than “No way should I have been canned!” It means your employer broke a law in firing you. Some examples: Illegal discrimination due to race, religion, age or gender; illegal retaliation against a whistleblower or against a union supporter.
Once you’re on the outside looking in, it may appear that your former boss is holding all the cards. But not necessarily: Wrongful termination lawsuits are on the rise, and courts can force employers to pay up if they’ve done you wrong by showing you the door.
What to do when you get fired.
In most cases, the first thing you need to do is start looking for a new job. Unless you have an enforceable contract, are covered by a union agreement, work in the public sector or work in Montana, your employer typically doesn’t need a good reason—or any reason—to terminate you.
But they can’t fire you for an illegal reason. Example of an illegal reason: “Too many women work here, so I’m getting rid of you.” That’s obvious gender discrimination. Discrimination is usually a lot more subtle—but that doesn’t mean you can’t take action if your employer broke the law when he or she took your job away.
There’s no single law against wrongful termination, but rather a set of laws that offer workers protection in specific situations. It may be illegal to fire a worker:
- Due to Discrimination, as described elsewhere in Fix My Job
- Because you had reported Illegal or Unethical Behavior at Work.
- Because you refused to break a law;
- Because you had jury duty, or had to vote, or had to report for National Guard service;
- Based on a credit report or bankruptcy proceedings;
- Because you were talking politics at work (though this only applies in a few states).
- Because you were trying to organize a union, or were engaged in protected concerted activity (in this case you could file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board).
If any of these describes your situation, consult an experienced labor or employment attorney in order to find out if you have a legal remedy.