What to Do When You Get Fired Unfairly

In a world where layoffs are common, and not all employees have the same opportunities for finding new employment, being fired unfairly is one of those things that people need advice about.

When this happens, it’s not always easy to know what steps are best for you.

Here is a list of things you could do when you get fired unfairly, as advised by experts.

Examine why the company fired you and whether they had the right to do so

You need to examine why the company fired you and whether they had the right to do so. Some states, such as New York, are “at-will” states, which means you have no job security and, therefore, you can be terminated for any reason and at any time, with or without cause.

However, you should make sure the firing was not illegal. You cannot be fired because of your:

  • age
  • race
  • gender identification
  • religion
  • national origin
  • physical and/or mental disability
  • sexual preference
  • military status

You also cannot be fired if you:

  • Refused to follow a company’s orders that result in illegal activity
  • Reported corporate misconduct to the authorities and/or sexual or racial harassment and discrimination to your superiors
  • Took extended leaves of absence due to pregnancy, hospitalization, jury duty, or military service

Of all these, age discrimination is the most prevalent. Companies attempt to fire older workers because they believe they are paid more, and companies are looking to reduce payroll costs.

They may also seek to fire an older worker because they believe their age — and physical condition — may have affected their ability to perform the job properly. Instead of firing them, the company may try to force them to retire early, only to reduce the older worker’s retirement benefits.

Related: 20+ Warning Signs Your Boss Doesn’t Respect You

The federal Older Workers Benefit Protection Act may give you added protection and should be reviewed with your employment attorney.

Know your rights

This is a very clichéd expression, but it’s true. If you don’t know your rights, you may stand to lose out on a lot during an employment law case. If you are fired in a manner that is inconsistent with, or different from, rights in a written contract or collective bargaining agreement (especially if you are in a union), you may be entitled to damages.

If there is a contract, examine it upon termination. The failure to give timely notice as required by a contract or to follow the requirements set forth in a contract may expose a company to a breach-of-contract claim.

If you are unable to get your job back using a violation of good faith and fair dealing argument, you or your attorney may be able to negotiate for you to obtain the benefits you were anticipating to receive.

Be sure to document everything that was promised to you during the job interview

What did your employer promise you upon being hired? Be sure to document everything that was said during the job interview. Also, keep track of the day, time, and place your employer made these promises.

Were there other people in the room with you during this time? Make sure their names are also recorded. This will bolster your case in the event you are unlawfully fired, and the company argues they never made any such promises to you.

Suppose, during the interview, the company president tells you — in all seriousness — “Don’t worry. We never fire anyone around here except for a good reason.” The president or another interviewer may then tell you, once you start working here, you will have “permanent employment” or “a job for life.”

If you are unjustly fired and are able to recall what was said, who said it, and how it was said, you may have a legitimate case.

Your employer might say you’re being fired because of allegedly poor performance. However, this can be disputed if you have enough evidence. This includes:

  • positive written performance reviews
  • letters of recommendation
  • memos
  • sales figures

You may have to check state law first, as some states don’t allow workers to make copies of documents from their personnel files.

Don’t leave empty-handed

If you are due certain payments and/or benefits upon termination, be sure you receive those before leaving the premises. This means any unpaid commissions, salary, bonuses, or reimbursements.

You worked hard to earn these benefits, and so there is no reason to leave them behind.

Remember: every firing is negotiable

A firing doesn’t have to end with you clearing out your desk and walking out with your possessions in a box. See if you can work out a deal to stay on with the company and if you can still be on its health plan for a few more weeks until you can find another job.

You are also entitled to any anticipated financial incentives such as stock options, retirement plans, accrued vacation pay, or pension benefits.

Suppose you resign from your job to take a new job. A few weeks in, your current employer says you are being terminated. You contact your former employer to get your old job back but to no avail.

This means you have no recourse, right? Wrong!

You are protected under a principle called promissory estoppel, meaning, even if you are unable to contest the firing, you are still entitled to damages. If you believe you have been unfairly fired, but are unsure what to do next, contact an employment attorney immediately.

Christopher Liew, CFA

Christopher Liew

CFA Charterholder | Creator, Wealth Awesome

Can you get fired for no reason? Unfortunately, anyone can get fired without cause, and it can happen even to the best of us.

Although it can be hard to come across specific data related to unjust dismissal, experts opine that there are approximately 250,000 cases of wrongful and illegal termination year in and out.

Here are some signs that you were fired unfairly from your job:

  • Retaliation – An example of this is if you witnessed and reported wrongful activities at work, and your boss fired you in response to that. This also includes instances where you were fired after you filed a workers’ compensation claim.
  • In violation of labor laws – If your boss fired you for discussing with your colleague how to improve working conditions, this might also be a sign of unjust termination.
  • Discrimination – This covers being terminated for reasons based on your race, gender, citizenship status, religion, and age, among others.

Related: 50+ Warning Signs of a Bad Boss or Manager

Tips on what to do when you get fired unfairly:

Familiarize yourself with the agreement you had with your former employer

An employer cannot use illegal and unjust reasons to terminate employees. So, if you have reason to believe that you were laid off recently because of unjust causes, I recommend that you familiarize yourself with the agreement you had with your former employer and confirm that your termination was in accordance with your agreement.

Ask what the reasons were behind your termination

Be sure to ask what the reasons were behind your termination and if you could view your personnel file. Be sure also to address any concerns you may have about your termination.

While I haven’t personally experienced being fired unfairly, I’ve had a couple of friends who were, and they normally mentioned that it could be an intimidating experience.

However, my advice is: don’t let yourself feel intimidated.

If you’ve been dismissed from your work, you may have the right to request severance pay or unemployment compensation. You might even have a legal claim for wrongful termination, so talking to a lawyer who specializes in labor laws in your state can help in this case.

They can offer a quick insight on the merits of your situation and the potential steps that you can take.

Jason Brown, MBA

Jason Brown

Founder & CEO, ApprovedCosts

In my experience, here’s what you need to do if you got fired unfairly:

Avoid making reckless decisions

Even if you are feeling angry, desperate, or even bitter, please keep your composure. Avoid making reckless decisions such as ranting online or sending an email to your former boss. You don’t want to end up getting a lawsuit or hurting your cause. You are in for a long fight, and you need to stay focused as much as possible.

Ask for the circumstances that caused your termination

You need to understand why you were let go. Ask for the circumstances that caused your termination. Ensure that your termination didn’t involve any illegal reasons or is unfounded.

In the United States, it’s illegal to fire someone due to discrimination, retaliation, breach of contract, or harassment. If you’re fired because of these bases or anything that can be seen as wrongful termination, you can sue.

Collect enough evidence you’re planning to sue

If you’re planning to sue for wrongful termination, make sure to have enough proof. Your success greatly depends on the amount of evidence you have. Remember that wrongful termination cases are between the employees and employers.

If you want to be believable, you need to have enough documents to prove what you’re claiming. Collect text messages, photos, videos, and emails. You can do better if you can find an eyewitness to support your claims.

File a complaint with the correct agency

Different agencies will entertain your complaints. You can file at:

  • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

If you’re going to file a case for retaliation, harassment, or discrimination, the EEOC can greatly help you. They administer federal laws relating to the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The agency can also help you if you get terminated for voicing your concerns regarding equal pay.

  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

If you got fired because you raised a complaint against an unsafe workplace or practice, OSHA could help you.

  • US Department of Labor

If you’ve been terminated for raising your concerns, you can file a complaint with the US Department of Labor.

Consult a lawyer

If you want to file a case, the person who can help you is a respectable lawyer. They can help you understand the whole process. A lawyer can also aid you in gathering evidence to help you win. They can also go through your claims and see whether you should settle or go to court.

Jaime-Alexis Fowler

Jaime-Alexis Fowler

Founder and Executive Director, Empower Work

Do what feels aligned with your values

Losing a job is one of the hardest experiences. It affects our well-being – from our finances to our confidence. And being fired in a way that feels unfair can cut even more deeply. It’s a normal reaction to want to immediately take action.

  • Someone might ask: “how can I fight this?”
  • Someone else might ask: “how can I move on?”

One of the most powerful things we’ve seen at Empower Work is taking a moment to be with the emotions of it and to process those a bit. It’s ok to feel angry, sad, frustrated, exhausted, and it’s often a good idea to work through some of the emotions before jumping to action. Speaking with a friend, partner, mentor, or other trusted source can be helpful to the process.

Next, explore some questions:

  • what’s important to you?
  • What would your ideal outcome be?

For many, it might seem keeping the job, but in spending time with that question, they may reflect on other challenges that were present that means they wouldn’t ever want to go back – the firing was the culmination of many injustices experienced.

Ultimately, whatever you do: do what feels aligned with your values.

Looking into the future: how do you want to feel a year or two years from now? That can be a strong guiding light.

Brian Dechesare

Brian DeChesare

Founder, Breaking Into Wall Street

Learn about your employee rights or consult a lawyer who understands employment law

If an employee feels they were wrongfully dismissed, their first step is to learn about their employee rights or consult a lawyer who understands employment law. Then, the employee should head to their employer’s HR department to find a resolution that suits both parties.

Though a wrongful dismissal suit may be required if negotiations fall apart, you’ll fare better if you exhaust previous options first.

Wrongful termination goes beyond getting fired “unreasonably.” Most employees in the US are “at-will,” meaning an employer can fire you for any reason, including budget cuts, poor employee performance, or completed seasonal work. The only time an employer can’t fire you is for any reason that breaks employment law.

Here are a few examples of wrongful dismissal:

  • Discrimination against a minority group
  • Retaliation; if you reported illegal behavior at work
  • Refusal to break a law

The next step after failed negotiations is to file a complaint with the EEOC, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Gather as much documentation to help your case as possible, including pay stubs, emails, and witness statements. If the EEOC complaint gets you nowhere, it may be time to pursue legal action.

Beware of the high costs involved with a lawsuit. Unfortunately, sometimes cutting your losses and moving on is the better option, so consider the emotional and financial impact on you for both moving forward or letting it go.

Dimitris Tsapis

Dimitris Tsapis

Head of HR, Coara

Get copies of all the documentation from the termination meeting

If you believe that you have been fired unfairly, the first thing that you must do is gain the reason for your dismissal from your employer. Get copies of all the documentation from the termination meeting. If it’s due to a yearly performance review, preceding disciplinary action, or any other similar type of reason, request a copy of these materials too.

While you’re at it, ask for a copy of your full employment file from the company. Get all the documentation possible that lead up to the dismissal (emails, letters, notes of meeting, or telephone conversation history).

Understand the reasons for your dismissal

While the majority of employment is “at will,” which in turn says that your employer doesn’t really need a reason to let go of someone. However, there are illegal reasons for dismissal that would classify the termination as a wrongful one.

These are reasons as:

  • Discrimination
  • Retaliation
  • Violation of public policy amongst others

Consult a lawyer or an employment attorney

Once you have done that, I would suggest that you consult a lawyer or an employment attorney. They understand the law’s nuances and can help you surely determine if it has been a wrongful termination.

If the firing is related to the Covid pandemic, this especially true since it has brought up many complicated legal issues which don’t yet have solid answers. From there on out, it depends on the specific situation:

  • If it has been wrongful, you have options to sue or take legal action.
  • If the lawyer (or attorney) determines that your dismissal has not been due to an illegal reason, you have to option to appeal under the employer’s dismissal or disciplinary procedures

Jagoda Wieczorek

Jagoda Wieczorek

HR Manager, ResumeLab

Either let go and move on or look to pursue legal action

Being fired is never pleasant—all the more if it’s been done unfairly. For starters, it is almost guaranteed that you will feel furious and vengeful. So before making a hasty decision, it’s essential to process your emotions and calm down.

Now, once the initial dust has settled, you have one of two possible options to explore:

  • Either face the harsh truth of the world not always being fair (and easy to say but much tougher to accept), let go and move on with a confident outlook into a brighter future.
  • Look to pursue legal action.

If you elect to look into the second option, you have to approach it as coolly and objectively as possible. It’s easy to be biased (hello self-serving bias, that we’re all guilty of) and think that no matter whether you deserved it or not, it was unfair that you were let go, and it’s all their fault.

But with all your might, you muse force yourself to rise above that. There are plenty of instances in which you might have very solid ground for legal action.

For example, if a new boss arrives and wants to let you go after two months in order to bring in “his/her team,” while you fulfilled all your duties until that time, well, then you have a pretty strong case of discrimination.

Remember, there is a whole slew of reasons why someone cannot let you go:

  • age
  • race
  • religion
  • sexual orientation
  • looks
  • political affiliation or nepotism/cronyism

It might be wise to consult with a lawyer, but if you sense that you were let go for a reason different from your performance/behavior, I would suggest legal action is definitely worth pursuing.

Richard Mews

Richard Mews

CEO, Sell With Richard

If possible, decline an employer’s offer of resigning rather than being fired

Severance compensation is not expected of a company until the work
contract demands it or the employee handbook or manual states that the employer has a policy of providing it. However, an individual will be
entitled to obtain a severance payment in return for a commitment to
release the company from all civil charges.

A lawyer will clarify your choices and counsel you about whether a severance agreement or an unfair firing lawsuit makes better sense in your particular case. On our unfair termination legal answers page, you will read more about state-specific rules.

Whether you and your lawyers agree that arranging a severance agreement is the safest course of action, you’ll want to have a bargaining plan in place.

Here are few pointers:

  • Remain composed if you are terminated.
  • Take time to consider some employer deals.
  • Request that all conditions be confirmed in writing by the boss.
  • Accept the employer’s initial bid cautiously.
  • If possible, decline an employer’s offer of resigning rather than being fired.
  • Make an effort to be on the payroll for as long as practicable.
  • Negotiate with the boss to maintain medical and dental benefits through the severance pay period.
  • Ascertain that the severance payment is not conditional on finding new work.

Jacques Buffet

Jacques Buffett

Career Expert, Zety

Get acquainted with the U.S. Department of Labor’s advice

If you feel you’ve been terminated from employment unfairly, it might be unlawful termination. In which case, you have general protection under the law against unlawful termination, which The Act sets out.

But before you go ahead and sue the company, ask yourself if you were fired for one of these reasons:

  • Discrimination (based on marital status, sexual preferences, race, skin color, age, disability, pregnancy, religious beliefs)
  • Retaliation
  • Fabricated reason
  • Violation of the public policy (because you belong to a recognized group or political party), or family or medical leave.

If you were in fact fired for one or several above reasons, that could constitute unfair termination. In which case, you can and should sue the employer in court, which will have the power to hold them liable.

However, your first step is to get acquainted with the U.S. Department of Labor’s advice on how to file a claim or visit the state labor department, depending on your state law and the circumstances. If you can afford it, you may also want to hire an attorney to handle your case and elevate your chances of success.

Ho Lin

Ho Lin

Content Strategist, MyPerfectResume

Gather all the evidence that proves the illegitimacy of your termination

If you feel like the reason stated in your termination letter is unfair or false, first, gather all the evidence that proves the illegitimacy of your termination.

For example, if the reason stated in your letter is bad performance, then put together a performance report that you can share with your employer and an HR representative.

Such a report should include all of your successes and especially your failures—if you didn’t meet a specific target, state all the reasons you weren’t able to deliver. It’s important to find valid justifications before talking to your employer.

Once you’ve gathered all of your evidence, set a meeting with an HR representative where you seek an explanation about their decision to terminate your contract. Ask them to go into details and to share specific examples that contributed to their decision.

The more information you get, the better.

If nothing was solved during the meeting, seek professional support from a qualified lawyer as they will give you the best legal advice and ensure you take the proper steps with your case.

Trevor Larson

Trevor Larson

CEO, Nectar HR

Immediately send yourself any correspondence

The first thing you should do if you are fired unfairly, especially if you already have an inkling before it happens, is immediately send yourself any correspondence that led up to your termination so that you can use it to advocate for yourself and to help build your case in the event that it becomes a legal issue.

If your employer decides to play dirty and delete your accounts and accesses before you have a chance to do this, the process of trying to subpoena this information will radically increase the time and cost of a resolution for you.

Speak to a lawyer before accepting any terms your ex-employer is offering you

If you are fired unceremoniously, bring your case to a labor lawyer as a matter of course, but particularly before responding to any remuneration, your ex-employer is offering you after the fact.

If you accept or agree to compensation packages or settlements before knowing your rights and your legal position, you could end up forfeiting the compensation and the due process you deserve and also giving an unscrupulous employer an advantage in any future negotiations if it becomes a legal matter.

Stefan Chekanov

Stefan Chekanov

CEO, Brosix

The best strategy is not to react right away

People often react very emotionally when they get fired unfairly and even make a scene to prove their point. In my experience, the best strategy is not to react right away.

Being fired is hard on itself, and people need some time to accept the news. When you add the unfairness to the equation, it can trigger a very strong response.

My advice is to give yourself time to calm down and think about the narrative you want to have. It’s perfectly fine to have some kind of reaction and express your disagreement with the decision. However, in order for it to be heard properly, you must be very calm.

It’s important not to expect that the situation will change. In most cases, managers won’t hire you back. The only idea behind your reaction is to make sure you provide the other side of the story. This can help minimize the feeling of hurt.

However, it most likely won’t help you get your job back. And honestly, you shouldn’t beg for it – if managers decided to fire you without double-checking the decision, then you don’t need to waste time in such a company.

Dorota Lysienia

Dorota Lysienia

Community Manager, LiveCareer

Wait 24 hours before making any decisions

Getting fired is never easy, especially if you’ve been treated unfairly. My advice is to give yourself some time and space before you decide to take any action. It’s a good idea to wait 24 hours before making any decisions.

After this time, you will have a better perspective on which course of action you want to take and avoid doing things you might regret later.

While in some cases it might be worth talking to your manager or HR department about the reasons for being fired, often you’ll have no choice but to let go. You can spend your time trying to prove that someone is wrong, but sometimes it’s better to use this energy for doing something good for yourself.

It’s a hard pill to swallow at the moment it happens, but at the same time, it teaches you that we aren’t able to control everything in our lives, and some things happen whether we like it or not.

Being fired unfairly won’t make sense for a long time, but at some point, you’ll realize those bad things happen for a reason. The truth is that people often find a more satisfying job with better career opportunities after losing their job.

As Marilyn Monroe once said, “Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.” So don’t get discouraged; give yourself time to recover and get back on your feet again.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Can I Cope With the Emotional Impact of an Unfair Dismissal?

Losing a job can be a traumatic experience, and an unfair dismissal can make it even harder. Here are some things you can do to cope:

• Reach out to friends, family, or a therapist for emotional support.
• Take care of your physical and mental health. This may mean exercising, eating healthy, or engaging in activities that bring you joy and relaxation.
• Focus on your future. Update your resume, start networking, and keep an eye out for new job opportunities. Remember that this isn’t the end of your career.

How Can I Explain to Potential Employers That I Was Fired?

Being fired can be a red flag to potential employers, especially if it is unfair. Here are some tips on how to explain your situation:

• Be honest, but don’t dwell on the negative. Be factual and concise when explaining why you were let go, and focus on what you learned from the experience.

• Be prepared to answer follow-up questions. Potential employers may want to know more about your situation. So be prepared to answer questions about your performance, relationship with your former employer, and future job aspirations.

• Use your network. If you have colleagues or former bosses who can vouch for your skills and work ethic, ask them for a reference or recommendation.

How Can I Stay Productive While Between Jobs?

The time between jobs can be challenging, but it’s important that you stay productive and engaged during that time. Here are some ways to stay productive:

• Learn new skills. Take online courses, attend workshops or conferences, or read books that can expand your knowledge and skills.

• Volunteer. Consider volunteering for a cause you care about. This can be a great way to gain new experience and network with people.

• Start a side project. Use your free time to work on a personal project showcasing your skills and creativity. This can also be a great talking point during job interviews.

How Can I Deal With Financial Stress After Being Unfairly Terminated?

Unfair dismissal can strain your finances, especially if you don’t have a steady income. Here are some tips on how you can deal with financial stress:

Create a budget: Make a list of your expenses and income and create a budget to help you stay on track.

Cut unnecessary expenses: Look for ways to cut back on unnecessary expenses such as dining out or subscriptions.

Consider seeking financial assistance: If you’re having trouble making ends meet, look for resources in your community that can help, such as food banks or financial aid programs.

How Can I Make the Most of My Unemployment Benefits?

If you’re eligible for unemployment benefits, you must make the most of this resource. Here are some tips:

Know the rules: Find out about eligibility requirements, the amount of benefits you’re entitled to, and how long you can receive benefits.

Use time wisely: Use your time off to focus on your job search, networking, and professional development.

Be proactive: Stay in touch with your case manager, report any changes in your employment status, and attend any required meetings or workshops.

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