Most workers are employed at will, meaning they can be fired whenever their employer wishes, for whatever reason the employer decides.
The employee is also able to leave employment without giving a reason in an at-will employment arrangement.
It’s no fun being fired for any reason if you were happy where you were working. There are a limited number of reasons why employers cannot terminate an employee’s job, even in at-will situation.
If this has happened to you, then you may be able to file a wrongful termination claim with a state or federal body such as the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) or the Department of Labor (DoL). It can be an intimidating experience having to file such a claim, so here are some tips to help you succeed.
Tip #1: Stay Calm
Whatever the reason for your termination, stay as calm as possible. Don’t get emotional or upset at work. You may have good grounds to challenge your termination or claim damages from your employer if you follow through the following steps methodically.
Tip #2: Talk to HR or Your Employer
Before you make a complaint, or seek legal action, try and talk to your HR department. Preferably ask for a written reason for your employment termination. You may find that this could be used as evidence in a wrongful termination claim if the reason was illegal under state or federal law.
Tip #3: Find Out Who Fired You
If you can’t talk to your employer or get a brusque response, try and find out who it was who made the decision to terminate your employment.
Tip #4: Contact a Lawyer
Talk to an employment lawyer about your case. The lawyer should be able to assess whether you have grounds for a wrongful termination claim.
Usually, this is because the reason for termination was prohibited under state or federal employment law. Common wrongful termination reasons include: discrimination because of your gender, color, race, age or disability, because you took family or medical leave without pay, or through retaliation.
Tip #5: File a Complaint With a State or Federal Agency
If your lawyer thinks you have good grounds for a wrongful termination claim, your first step should be to file a complaint with either the EEOC (discrimination or retaliation) or the Wages and Hours Division of the Department of Labor.
When you file your complaint you should give your name, address, contact information, place of employment, job description, date of termination and why you think you were wrongfully terminated.
Provide any evidence you have such as a letter from your employer, and an extract from any employment agreement you had when you started work.
Tip #6: Be Aware of the Statute of Limitations
Make sure you file your complaint within the statute of limitations. This is the time limit you have to file a claim with the relevant government agency.
The time limit varies e.g. the EEOC usually has a statute of limitation of 180 days from the date of termination to make a claim.
Department of Labor time limits may be longer, e.g. up to 2 years. There may be a further statute of limitations if you are given permission to sue your employer.
Tip #7: Prepare for any Mediation Sessions
Prepare to be asked to attend a meeting between you, a representative from your employer and an official from the EEOC or DoL.
Don’t get angry or emotional. Just stick to the facts and outline any reasons you might have for the termination being illegal e.g. if you think your employer was retaliating against you for some reason.
Tip #8: Get Permission to Sue
Normally, you won’t be able to sue your employer unless give permission to do so by the EEOC or DoL. If they have no luck trying to resolve your case, but still think you have a good case to sue your employer you will be given “permission to sue.”
Tip #9: Get Help From an Employment Lawyer to File a Lawsuit
If it gets to the stage of filing a lawsuit, you should definitely get help from an experienced employment lawyer. The lawyer will help prepare your case and negotiate over damages you should seek.
If your case is upheld by the court, you should get back pay, liquidated damages, court and lawyer’s fees paid.
Tip #10: Free Case Evaluation
Use the free case evaluation form below to find a suitable lawyer near you.