Losing a job disrupts your life and finances like almost nothing else. How you respond in the first minutes and days of receiving a termination notice — or actually hearing, “You’re fired!” — will make a world of difference in whether you can quickly move on to a better employment opportunity. What you do immediately in the wake of being let go can also set the stage for holding your former employer accountable for taking an adverse employment action.
What Is an Adverse Employment Action?
“Adverse employment action” is a legal term of art that covers
- Reductions in pay
- Transfers to more difficult and/or less-prestigious assignments
- Firings, layoffs, and other terminations
A company or agency can take an adverse employment action for a whole range of legitimate reasons, including poor performance, rules violations, and economic considerations. Employers cannot, however, fire or otherwise mistreat an employee in retaliation for reporting a problem or due to discrimination based on a protected characteristic such as race, sex, religion, or age. When an adverse employment action is taken for an illegitimate purpose, the affected employee has grounds for contacting an employment attorney to discuss filing a civil lawsuit.
Preserving one’s ability to seek compensation and damages for an illegal firing or other form of unfair treatment that leads up to a termination, an employee is wise to take all of the following four steps.
Step 1. Remain Calm
No matter how sudden or unfair a firing strikes you as being, do not cause a scene, seek revenge, damage equipment, or email a list of grievances to management and staff. Taking the high road makes it easier to find a new job and prevents your former employer from presenting evidence that they had to let you go because of poor behavior.
Step 2. Ask for a Written Notice
Make your employer specify in writing whether you are being fired or getting laid off with the possibility of getting rehired. Also make sure the termination notice states the reason for the termination.
You will be asked to present this information when you apply for unemployment benefits. The termination notice could also constitute a key piece of evidence in a wrongful termination or employment discrimination lawsuit because the employer will need to prove the truth of each of the statements it made in writing.
Step 3. Have Any Severance Package, NDA, or Other Separation Contract Reviewed by an Employment Lawyer
Employers must comply with several federal and state laws when offering separation pay, making payouts for unused leave, transferring retirement funds, offering ongoing health insurance coverage, and requiring compliance with nondisclosure and non compete agreements. Only a knowledgeable attorney will have the experience and expertise to ensure that an employer meets all its legal obligations.
Step 4. Keep Lines of Communication With Supportive Co-Workers and Supervisors Open
Circling back to step one in many ways, do not burn bridges just because you lost your job. Maintaining professional relationships with supervisors and keeping up friendships with co-workers will benefit you in three ways after you get fired.
First, having a support network will make it easier to survive a period of unemployment with your mental health and self-esteem intact. Beyond offering moral support, your contacts at your old job can offer leads on and introductions to future employers.
Last, if you do have grounds for a lawsuit based on an illegal adverse employment action, you will need to rely on testimony from supervisors and co-workers who corroborate your statements about what happened. Knowing how to directly and confidentially get your employment lawyer in touch with people who can support your claims will help avoid obstruction and blow back from your former employer.