If you’re fired or laid off or were forced to resign, you’re probably traumatized. This was your job. This was your rent or mortgage money, your car loan. There goes your retirement plan and your health insurance –maybe even your family’s.
That vacation you were planning … looks like that won’t happen this year. What will your now-former employer say to prospective bosses? How will you tell your family and friends? Will you have to move out of the region? Will you have to finally join LinkedIn? Thoughts swirl around, untamed.
Most employees in the U.S. are what’s called “at-will.” That means that your employment may be terminated at any time with or without cause by either you or your employer.
There are legal limits to at-will termination, however. You can’t be fired based on illegal discrimination – race, sex, age, religion, national origin, etc. And, yes, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against white males.
There are also public policy limits. Companies, for example, can’t fire people because they’re whistleblowers or because they’re on workers’ comp.
Most employers are smart enough, though, to avoid saying you were fired for any of these illegal reasons. The upshot is that you might not know the real reason you were fired. The heads of the company might not even know – they’re relying on what your boss told them.
Maybe you screwed up a project. Maybe you were late. You might even feel you deserved to get fired.
But maybe people of other races or genders, etc. made the same mistake as you and didn’t get fired. Maybe you didn’t really screw up that project — your supervisor might just be saying you did. Or maybe your boss set you up to fail – by giving you too much to do before a tight deadline, or making you work with difficult colleagues.
Maybe there’s a pattern of discriminatory firings in the company that you’re not aware of.
Ask around. Did other people make the same or similar or worse mistake and not get let go? Don’t just think about “firings.” The people who left “to pursue other opportunities” might actually have been fired, laid off, or forced to resign.
Should you call a lawyer? Of course you knew I’d say “Yes.” An attorney can evaluate your situation and give you some idea of whether and how to pursue your rights.
An attorney might even determine you’re not even ”at-will.” Are you in a union? Did you have a contract limiting the reasons for which you could be fired? Although it’s unusual, a contract can be created orally and through a course of conduct.
You’re in a tough situation. It’s hard to think, it’s hard to be objective, it’s hard to know who’s really on your side. (Hint; the HR Department isn’t.) Be good to yourself, stick up for yourself, and call an employment lawyer.