Deciding to hire an employment law attorney is a significant decision. For most employees, it’s usually a decision that comes during a not-so-great time in their professional lives. After all, happy employees with a wonderful boss usually aren’t looking for employment law advice.
But sometimes unpleasant events happen at work that make an employee wonder if they need legal representation. One of the most common events is a firing, or when an employee thinks he or she is about to be fired.
In certain situations, time is of the essence and hiring an attorney as soon as possible is critical. Moving this quickly is occasionally needed because of something called statutes of limitations.
What Are Statutes of Limitations and How Do They Work?
Statutes of limitations are laws that place time limits on when legal action may be brought for a particular act. In a typical civil claim, a prospective plaintiff usually has anywhere from one to three years to file a lawsuit. The exact time limit depends on the claim being brought and where it’s brought.
In the employment context, a worker may not always need to file a lawsuit to beat a statute of limitations deadline. Instead, the worker may have to file a complaint with a state or federal administrative agency and may be legally barred from filing a lawsuit until that agency completes its investigation of the complaint.
An example of this is filing a federal lawsuit alleging employment discrimination on the basis of something like race or sex. Before you can file a lawsuit in federal court, you must first file a complaint (technically called a “charge”) with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Depending on whether a local or state agency has a special arrangement with the EEOC, most workers who want to bring a legal action under federal law for workplace discrimination will have either 180 days or 300 days from the adverse employment event to file their charge. But if the worker is a government employee, they may have only 45 days to file a charge with his or her respective Equal Employment Opportunity Counselor.
Once this charge is filed, that doesn’t mean the worker has to file a lawsuit in court. They might be pleasantly surprised when the administrative investigative and reconciliation process produces satisfactory results.
If a worker wants to bring an employment lawsuit exclusively under a state or local law, they may have more time to file a lawsuit or charge with the appropriate agency. However, in an abundance of caution, it’s always better to rely on the shorter deadline to have the maximum number of legal options available. Perhaps the worker won’t sue under federal law and will rely on state law instead. But most states don’t have laws that protect workers as well as federal law. Even if a state does have a robust employee protection law, it’s impossible to know for certain when one legal argument will be successful and when another will not.
To learn more about which statutes of limitations apply to which types of employment law claims, check out the handy Statutes of Limitations Chart.
Besides a Statute of Limitations Deadline, Why Might I Need to Quickly Hire an Attorney?
Besides personal or psychological reasons, you might want to hire an attorney quickly if you think you’re about to get fired for an unlawful reason and want to preserve evidence for a future lawsuit, but aren’t sure how to do it legally. Or maybe you know that you will be presented with a severance agreement when you’re fired and you want to have an attorney ready to give you advice on whether you should sign it or negotiate better terms.
One thing to keep in mind is that hiring an attorney usually won’t save your job. In most situations, there’s little your attorney can do to convince your employer to not fire you. And even if your attorney could save your job, you probably wouldn’t want to stay at a job where the only reason the employer didn’t fire you was because you lawyered up.
When Should I Hire an Attorney?
In most cases, you will usually have more time than you think and therefore you probably don’t need to feel rushed to hire an attorney. But because that’s not always the case, you still need to do your homework to find out how much time you actually have and what your legal rights might be.
Sometimes figuring this out will require an initial consultation with an attorney. Other times, 30 minutes on Google will suffice. Basically, you need to figure out what your legal options might be before you can determine how much time you have to hire an attorney.
If you are unable to conclude what your legal options are, including what the statute of limitations is in your case, you should probably speak with an attorney as soon as you can. But if you know you have around 180 or 300 days to take legal action, you have a little bit of time to mull things over and take your time in deciding what to do.
Giving it a few weeks to discuss your situation with your spouse, friends or family members could give you a different perspective. In the meantime, you can revise your resume or curriculum vitae and reconnect with a few professional acquaintances to set the stage for a future job search. Then you can circle back to whether you need to hire an attorney and pursue whatever legal options you have available.
Summing It Up
- Statutes of limitations are special laws that place time limits on when a legal proceeding may take place.
- Many workers who have been fired or are about to get fired may feel rushed to hire an attorney to protect whatever legal rights they may have.
- In the vast majority of situations, a worker will have at least 45 days after an adverse employment event to take legal action and most often, they will have 180 or 300 days.
- Most of the time, it’s okay to take some time to think about your situation, talk to close friends or family members and carefully figure out what you should do.
For More Information
If you’ve recently been fired or feel like your employer is about to fire you, please contact us for a no cost online review of your case.
But if you’re not ready for that step yet, check out our Tools and Resources Page where you will find numerous other no-cost resources like our Case Assessment Calculator, Podcasts and informative articles, including our blog posts, “I Think I’m About to Get Fired. What Should I Do?” Part I and Part II.