What Are My Rights After I’ve Been Fired?

Looking for guidance after being fired? We've got you covered!

Reviewed by Hayley Ramsey

Employee letter giving information about rights after being fired

Losing your job for whatever reason is a worrying time, and it can be made all the more stressful if you are unsure of your rights and entitlements following your dismissal. Whatever the reason for your employment termination, you have rights and can be expected to be paid a final pay check, and may or may not be entitled to other compensation.

Let us talk you through your rights and the steps you can take if you’ve been fired to ensure that you get what you are entitled to, and provide you with everything you need to be able to search for new meaningful employment.

Your rights

Whatever the reason your employment contract was terminated, you have certain rights that you need to be aware of and there are steps to take to make sure you get what you are entitled to.

1. At-will employment

Most employment comes under the category of “at will” which means an employer has the right to terminate your contract, at any time, for any reason, providing it isn’t unlawful, or against a previous agreement. If you are an at-will employee, your employer doesn’t need to give you a reason for firing you.

That said, there are certain things that your employer cannot fire you for. If you have a written contract, the employer must abide by the terms, so it’s important to check if there is anything in there that they have not followed. An employer must also abide by employment laws regarding public policy and cannot fire you for something like attending jury duty, or taking medical leave.

Finally, you cannot be fired for discriminatory reasons, such as being pregnant, female, or a certain race, or for reporting a violation or unlawful activity. If you think the termination of your employment violates one of these reasons, you may be able to file a case against your employer.

2. Wrongful termination

If you think you have been victim of a wrongful termination, there are steps you can take. Having a written contract will be a great help, because you have an agreement in writing that cannot be disputed like a verbal or implied contract can.

Aside from this, it’s important to keep a written record of evidence of what is happening and when. Note down what is said, meetings, justifications and any unfair treatment that can help your case if you file a case.

3. Final paycheck

Laws vary across states, but in general, employees are entitled to a final paycheck if they have been fired. The amount of time before this payment is seen is not always the same. For example, in California, an employer must pay an employee their final paycheck immediately upon termination employment. In other states, 72 hours is the average.

However, if there is anything written into your contract that states otherwise, this must be adhered to, so always check your contract if you lose your job so you know what to expect.

4. Severance pay

Employers are not obliged to give severance pay to employees that have had their employment terminated, but it may or may not be written into your contract. Severance pay is a contractual agreement and is provided by a large number of employers, particularly large multinational corporations.

Severance packages usually include a lump sum, but can also include health insurance, ongoing payments for a number of years and other benefits. This will all be detailed to an employee in writing and will be dependent on the number of years they have served at the company.

5. Health insurance coverage

By law, employees have the right to continue their health insurance coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, or COBRA. This allows employees and their family to continue paying their own health insurance cover contributions for up to 18 months.

Any employer with more than 20 employees must, by law, provide health insurance and allow terminated employees the option of continued healthcare at their own expense.

6. Unemployment benefits

Losing your job means you are likely to face some financial setbacks, which can in some way be eased by unemployment compensation if you are eligible. This can offer you some financial support while seeking new employment.

Unemployment compensation is usually less than a full salary, but it is available for 26 weeks, and some people may be legible to extend the benefits for a further 20 weeks. To receive the compensation, you must meet eligibility criteria. If you were fired from your job for criminal activity, such as theft or violence, you may not be eligible.

Tips to follow if you’ve been fired

Losing your job is a stressful, worrying time and it’s important to know that you do have rights and to understand the steps that you can take in order to get everything you are entitled to explore any legal options that may be available to you. Follow our 7 steps to make the process as stress free as possible.

1. Review your employment contract

The first thing to do if you are fired is to review your employment contract to find out exactly where you stand. An employment contract is a binding agreement, so anything in your contract about severance pay, final payment, health insurance or anything relating to benefits is your right to access.

If your employer is not adhering to what is written in the contract, you have a good case for wrongful dismissal or a case against them for not providing you with what was promised.

2. Ask the right questions

It’s important to know where you stand, so firstly, ask your employer why you have been fired. If you are an at-will employee, your employer does not have to give you a reason, but a reasonable employer will still do so. Knowing why you have been fired will be valuable feedback so you can correct your mistakes in future job roles, and will also allow you to assess whether you think the employment termination was fair or whether you need to take further action.

Also ask any questions surrounding final pay, severance pay, benefits, or anything else you feel you should be entitled to. If you don’t think your employer is fulfilling their contractual agreement, you have every right to confront them and ask them questions to find out why.

3. Hire an attorney

If you feel that you have been fired unfairly, or that your employer is not fulfilling their contractual duties, it is a good idea to hire an attorney. An attorney can advise you on your rights and support you to file a claim against your employer.

4. Negotiate the terms of your departure

You may have lost your job, but it isn’t always on bad terms. Sometimes an employer has no option due to limits in funding or a company downsizing. In this case, especially, you can look to negotiate your terms of departure. You might be able to negotiate a notice period in order to give you a bit more time, with a salary to find another form of employment.

You may also be able to negotiate a severance package, which could be a lump sum, or various benefits. Even if your contract doesn’t include a severance package, you may be able to negotiate if severance has been offered in the past, or if it has been offered to other employees whose employment has also been terminated.

Whatever happens, whatever the reason for termination of your employment, it’s important to depart on good terms. This will help you gain future employment, without giving yourself a bad name. Staying on good terms is the best idea, as you may need to ask for references or see job openings with the same company in the future.

5. Ask for references

References are a very important part of the job search process. Once you have been selected or shortlisted for a role, you will be asked for a reference. Not having a reference from your previous employer can raise some red flags.

Depending on the reason for termination of your employment, you may be able to ask your employer for a reference. A reference has to be truthful and honest, so think carefully whether a reference from the employer that terminated your employment will benefit your job search in a positive way.

Remember, a personal reference doesn’t have to be from your line manager. It can come from anyone else within the company that you have a relationship with that was senior to you.

6. Apply for unemployment benefit

Unemployment benefit will help ease your financial worries while you are not receiving a salary and are looking for new employment. There are some eligibility criteria to fulfil in order to receive unemployment benefits, but if your employment was terminated due to downsizing or budget cuts, you are likely to be eligible for benefits. Similarly, if you lost your job due to a skills gap, or poor performance.

However, if your employment was terminated for cause, you will be unlikely to receive benefits. Examples of termination for cause include theft, failing a drugs test, fraud, or wilfully breaking the law.

7. Update your résumé

In order to secure new employment, you may need to update your résumé, especially if you have been in your current job for a long time. Make sure you include details of your employment, including any accomplishments and notable duties, as well as any skills you’ve gained in the role.

Key takeaways

Losing your job for whatever reason is a daunting prospect. If this happens to you, its important that you take time to check your rights and review your contract to make sure you get everything that you are entitled to. The main things to look for are:

  • Details about your final paycheck
  • Information about severance packages
  • What happens with your health insurance coverage

If you find yourself in the position of being fired, there are steps to follow to minimize the effects. These include speaking to your employer about the reasons for firing you, so you can work on improving or determining whether the decision was lawful. Employment benefits are there if you are eligible, so make use of them and get to work finding another job that’s perfect for you.

Have you ever been unfairly dismissed? What happened? Let us know what you did in the comments below!