An earlier version of this post by Spiggle Law Firm employment attorney Phillis h. Rambsy originally appeared in an e-newsletter sent by Nicolas T. Abrams, a Certified Financial Planner and the President and CEO of AJW Financial Partners LLC.
The loss of a job can be traumatic. It’s an emotional time, and emotions can cause you to make some desperate and rash decisions. In the midst of a scary and confusing termination, there are things you can do to make the situation more manageable. Below are five tips that can help you stay savvy, secure, and sane in the face of a termination.
1. Do not SIGN.
Never sign a severance agreement in haste. You need to take the time to be sure that the agreement presents the best possible scenario for you. You will be bound by any agreement that you sign. Do not feel pressured to sign any agreement without having adequate time to think about it and seek guidance.
Immediately after being fired, you may only be thinking about the short-term; thus, your thoughts may be concentrated only on having enough money for the immediate future. If you are presented with a severance agreement that offers you a decent amount of cash (or any amount of cash), you may be tempted to just sign and take the money. But this may not be the best option for you. Take some time before signing any agreement to determine whether you are satisfied with its terms. You may need to consider aspects of your financial, professional, and personal life. You will also need to discuss the agreement with an attorney who can help you understand the impact of the legal terms.
If you are at least 40 years old, you have 21 days to consider any severance agreement. Your employer cannot coerce you into signing the agreement by threatening that the agreement may disappear if it is not immediately signed. Even if you are younger than 40, your employer should not rush you into signing any severance agreement. If your employer pressures you to make a quick decision—that is a red flag that something is amiss.
You can negotiate terms so that a severance agreement is tailored to your specific needs. You may negotiate for more money. Or you may want to consider other nonmonetary provisions such as a reference from your employer, a nondisparagement provision, and/or a provision that indicates that the employer will continue to cover health insurance benefits for a certain period.
2. Do not STEAL.
You may feel that you were fired because you were discriminated against or subjected to some other unlawful actions, and you will want to gather evidence. But you cannot unlawfully or unethically obtain evidence. This does not mean that you cannot take copies of communications that are specifically directed to you. But do not take confidential documents or other information that you had no permission to obtain. Also, do not take or destroy company equipment.
If you have unlawfully obtained company property/information, your actions could work against you. A court could later decide that you are not entitled to receive any compensation from your employer—even if the employer was wrong in firing you. If you think there is information that could help your case, make note of where you think this information is located and let your attorney know. During the discovery process of any legal action, your attorney can then request that information.
3. Remain SILENT.
You will be tempted to tell everyone about how horrible your employer is. It will be tempting to tell everyone you know about your plans to sue this horrible employer. Social media makes it easy for you to share information about your employer. But resist the urge to share too much. Do not use social media platforms to air out your complaints, because any of your social media accounts can eventually be used as evidence against you. Remember that anything that you post on social media never truly disappears and can come back to haunt you!
All of the people with whom you discuss the situation can be used as witnesses against you. If you say something to someone, expect it to be repeated. Be especially careful when discussing the circumstances surrounding your termination with those who are still employed by your former employer. While they may seem sympathetic and understanding, they still work for the employer. Ultimately, they will most likely choose their own security and well-being over supporting you.
4. SEARCH for New Employment.
Even if the termination was not your fault, you have an obligation to search for a new job. It’s called “mitigating damages.” After getting fired, you can’t just sit around hoping that you will eventually win some big settlement from your employer. Even if you receive a monetary settlement, it will likely be significantly less than you imagined.
Don’t sit around for months while bills go unpaid and you lose your home. Any legal action that you bring against your former employer will require you to provide evidence that you looked for a new job. It’s understandable that you will be upset after losing your job. But you have to find a way to get out there and search for a new one!
5. SEEK an Attorney.
Determining whether you have a claim against your former employer can involve complex issues. There will be deadlines to meet, certain facts will determine the exact claims that you can bring, other facts will determine whether your claims can be brought in state or federal court, and the nature of your claims will determine whether you can immediately bring the claim in a court or whether you must first bring that claim in an administrative agency such as the EEOC or a state/local Office of Human Rights.
You will need an employment attorney to help you navigate these issues. Search for an attorney who specializes in employment law. Your attorney should be well versed in the aforementioned factors and should be able to help you determine what, if any, claims to bring.
Gather all the pertinent information about your case, so that when you meet with an attorney, she can have a clear understanding of your situation. Even if you only have a consultation with the attorney and do not retain the attorney, your conversation with the attorney is confidential. Be honest with the attorney, even if there are facts in the case that you believe negatively portray you. The attorney cannot adequately assess your case if you do not provide all available and accurate facts.