Employee Rights When Your Job is Terminated

Employee Rights After a Job Termination

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••• Noel Hendrickson / Photographer's Choice RF

Most private-sector employees in the United States are employed at will, which means that their employers can terminate their job at any time, for any reason or no reason at all – barring discrimination.

This means that many newly terminated employees are taken by surprise. While some employers may provide warnings and advance notice of termination, others move swiftly and unexpectedly. If you’re recently lost your job, you may be wondering what your rights are.

Because a layoff can happen to anyone, often without warning, it is extremely important to be prepared to change jobs. Periodically update your resume, even if you don’t think you will need it soon. Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date, and keep in contact with your network. Have a few potential references in your back pocket, so that you won’t have to start from scratch in the event that you lose your job.

Preparing yourself for all outcomes will allow for a smooth transition if you need to make any change in employment.

Fortunately, terminated employees do have certain rights. In addition to a final paycheck, employees could be entitled to things like continued health insurance coverage, extended benefits, severance pay, and unemployment compensation. It is important to know exactly what your rights are as an employee when you lose your job.

Your Rights When Your Employment Is Terminated

Jay Warren, counsel in the New York office of Bryan Cave LLP, shares his expertise on employee rights and options for seeking assistance if you have questions about those rights, if you believe you have been discriminated against and/or have been subjected to wrongful termination.

Sources of Employee Rights

1. Contract Rights

Employees who have an individual contract with their employer or employees covered by a union/collective bargaining agreement would be covered under the stipulations in the contract if their employment is terminated.

2. Company Policy

When a company plans layoffs it may have a severance plan in effect.

If so, severance pay may be provided if your employment is terminated.

3. Statutory Rights

Statutory rights are those provided by federal or state law. They include unemployment insurance, advance notification of the closing of or a substantial layoff at a facility (depending on the size of the company), anti-discrimination laws, and anti-retaliation laws.

Getting Information on Your Rights

When you're not sure about your rights, the best place to start is with the company Human Resources department. Even if they are in the process of terminating your employment, they can answer questions, let you know what company benefits you are eligible for, and guide you through the process of leaving employment.

FAQs About Being Terminated From a Job

No matter how much notice you received before losing your job, or how well-prepared you are to embark on a job search, you probably have questions about what happens next. Some of the most commonly asked questions about termination from employment are:

When You Need Help

If you feel that you have been discriminated against or haven't been treated according to the law or company policy, you can get assistance.

The US Department of Labor, for example, has information on each law that regulates employment and advice on where and how to file a claim. Your state labor department may also be able to assist you, depending on state law and the circumstances.

In addition, local bar associations often have a referral service and may even have a hotline you can call to find an employment lawyer. Keep in mind that you will need to pay for an attorney's services, although some will provide the initial consultation free of charge.

Read More: 50+ Frequently Asked Questions About Getting Fired | Questions to Ask the Employer When You're Fired