Important Thing to Note- So, here is the deal in Florida and most states. Most likely, you are an at-will employee which means that, absent an employment agreement spelling out reasons for termination (a cause provision), you can be fired for any reason, whether good, bad, made up, or ridiculous except if the true reason for the firing is based on your race, age, gender, sexual orientation, health condition or disability, pregnancy, color, sexual harassment, national origin, or if you are a whistleblower, etc. If you don’t have a contract, and you are not disciplined or fired for one of these improper reasons, there likely is no claim for wrongful termination. It’s not fair, but that’s the law. This article has helpful information for all employees being fired, but is especially geared to those employees who likely have a case for wrongful termination.
1. Find out why- Things happen at work all the time, but mostly, unless something illegal is going on, there is a reason for someone to be fired. Send an email or text message (you want this in writing) to your supervisor or boss clarifying the reason you have been told your job is in trouble and asking them to confirm it. Did you blow a sales call? Argue with your co-workers? Keep coming in late? You also want to look at whatever company documents you have (handbooks, memos, emails) that address this particular issue being claimed to look at what the company’s standards are for the performance issue being claimed. If you are not sure why you are on the verge of being fired or disciplined, ask your supervisor?
2. While looking at the company documents, you want to look at the standards the company has laid out regarding discipline. For example, if the policy states that you have to be warned verbally, or in writing (progressive discipline), and you have not been through the steps, you need to be prepared to explain this to your supervisor or human resources.
3. Once you get a response from the company, or even if you don’t, and you believe the claims against you are inaccurate or untrue, or they did not follow their own disciplinary procedures, prepare a written response or position of your statement (with detail) to your supervisor. The one piece of advice I will give you is not to write this response when you are emotional. Draft it, and sit on it overnight. If you still feel strongly about your message, then send it. But insulting your supervisor or taking an aggressive approach, rather than being factual and 100 accurate, may put you in a worse position than you already were.
4. Take notes for yourself about what is happening, including dates and times, and write down names and contact numbers of co-employees or witnesses to particular events so, in the event of litigation, you know where and how to reach these people. You also want to record people’s email addresses so in the event things proceed to litigation, your lawyers can ask for specific emails from specific people. It’s much easier to get this information while you still work there, than after. And, you would be amazed what people put in writing.
5. Along the same lines as number 5, you want to start collecting evidence to support your claims. Make copies of unfair evaluations, emails that were inappropriate or discriminatory/harassing, documents showing that the discipline you received was unfair and untrue, and ask for a copy of your personnel file. If your employer will not give you a copy, ask to review it and take notes about what it contains. You can also take cell phone shots of offensive things in the workplace and what is in your personnel file to protect the evidence. And, if there are emails that will make your case or support your claims, forward them to your home email account Make sure, however, that you do not take confidential documents containing your employer’s trade secrets, or customers lists, or sensitive documents not pertaining to you, because that could wind you up in a lawsuit for taking that type of information.
6. If you are fired, realize that it is not the end of the world. It feels that way. Your stomach may be in knots, and you may feel helpless or depressed. But remember this- odds are you were miserable at the job before you were fired, because you know you were being forced out by something you couldn’t control- your age, disability, gender, race, etc. There will be other jobs and other opportunities in your life. Realize that one door closes and another door opens. If you have been wrongly terminated, you have rights to protect yourself and there are lawyers out there to protect you. Take a deep breath. Take a day or two, or even a week to just step away from what happened, and then figure out your next step. Head up, Chest out. If you were successful in the past, you will be successful in the future. No discriminating or harassing boss or supervisor can take that away from you.
7. Reach out to family and friends and colleagues for help. You would be amazed how many people want to help you in your time of need, and how wide a web you can cast. Tell them what type of job you are looking for, and let them spread the word.
8. File for unemployment. There is no shame in this. You pay into this fund for a reason – situations like this. Continue to look for jobs, but allow the unemployment funds to help you during your transition.
9. Once you get on your feet again and can face the fact you have been fired, start applying for jobs immediately, and document all of your efforts including where you applied, when, what position, and the response. This is important not only to collect unemployment, but also for purposes of your wrongful termination lawsuit. This shows the court and the jury, that you are not sitting back waiting for a settlement or verdict, but rather are taking active steps to get back on your feet and in the workplace. Getting a better new job is more important than not working or taking a terrible job just to make your lawsuit look better. If your case is valid, then you should get appropriate compensation and damages for your termination. Don’t let a potential lawsuit recovery be your only hope, however. As soon as you can start applying for jobs, you need to do so.
10. If you decide to meet with an employment lawyer on your wrongful termination claim, bring all your documents and information to the meeting. You also need to know what to look for in an employment lawyer. Click here for an article on that.