So You’ve Been Fired, Now What?

Getting fired is one of the toughest situations an employee will have to deal with, but while it can be life changing, it doesn’t have to be unbearable. It’s important to get yourself informed about the process and your rights so you can know what to expect and how to handle yourself after the firing is complete. Here’s a section of my book “The Employee Rights Handbook” that deals with just that. Getting informed is the first step, read now to ensure you know your rights.

How to Properly Handle the News

Typically, you will be called into a supervisor’s, manager’s, or executive’s office when being informed of the firing. Decisions such as who should tell you, where, and when have already been made. The employer should decide these matters with an eye to minimizing your discomfort and embarrassment, and increasing the chances you will have an opportunity to regain your composure and begin taking steps to find employment elsewhere. People who quickly find satisfactory replacement jobs are less likely to sue ex-employers. Smart employers know this and should be willing to do everything possible to help you in this pursuit.

Some companies will fire you at the end of the week (so they don’t have to pay you for any remaining days that week) and order you to leave the premises immediately. Other companies often escort fired employees out of the building, sometimes shipping their belongings to their homes.

If you are requested to leave the premises, do so quietly. The decision to fire you has already been made. Typically, it is final and not appealable in most cases. However difficult it may be, the trick is to stay calm when you are told the news. Raising your voice and arguing will get you nowhere and burn bridges.

Asking the person to reconsider is generally a waste of time unless he or she is a trusted friend and your request has a good chance of paying off or the employer has a stated policy of allowing workers to grieve and/or appeal a termination decision. If you are aware of such a policy, consider taking appropriate steps immediately, since you have nothing to lose. Thus, if the policy requires you to appeal the decision in writing no more than X (e.g., three) days after being fired, do so to avoid a claim that your appeal was not filed timely or properly. Just don’t get your hopes up, because requests for reconsideration rarely work.

Although the author disagrees, some experts advise against asking the employer to reconsider under any circumstances. This minority view is that your acquiescence may be viewed positively (as a relief) and the company may reward you for “not rocking the boat” by giving you a generous severance package. Since each situation depends on the unique facts and personalities of the players involved, it is always recommended you seek the advice of an experienced employment attorney before embarking on a particular course of action.

There are situations, however, where the employer may have a confirmed progressive discipline system in place. To combat the trend toward awarding fired workers large verdicts in discrimination and breach of contract cases and to avoid looking foolish or biased to a jury, most employers are being advised by their lawyers to enact a progressive discipline system before firing workers (especially those over forty, women, or minorities). They are advised to structure the discipline so that it appears rational and proportional. This includes first giving employees notice that their performance is unsatisfactory and extending an opportunity to improve. If they do not meet expectations, workers then receive a written warning that sets deadlines for improvement. When there is no improvement after a final warning, termination follows, with the decision to terminate being reviewed and independently approved by several people (such as a supervisor, the president, and an executive from the human resources department) before it occurs.

If you believe the company has a policy of giving written warnings before a firing but you were not given the same opportunity to improve as other coworkers, ask the employer to reconsider, or consult a lawyer for advice. Many employers violate the law when they fail to apply a system of progressive discipline consistently, properly, or fairly.

When companies decide to terminate workers in a large layoff or restructuring, the same executives typically review the ages and personal characteristics of all those chosen to be fired to be sure the layoffs are not skewed and predominantly affect one protected class of workers (such as older workers). Again, if you are part of a protected class and believe that a predominant number of women, older workers, or minority workers were fired en masse along with you, speak to an employment attorney for guidance.

A request to reconsider, however, if presented in a calm and professional manner, may cause the owner or president to gain sympathy for your predicament. This can translate into more severance and post-termination benefits if you play your cards right.

There may also be occasions when it is wise to request that the decision be postponed. These include if you are close to earning a vested pension or profit-sharing benefit, commission, bonus, or stock option grant and need the additional time to “bridge the gap.” Request this when applicable, because you have nothing to lose. If you feel the decision was financially driven and you need to stall the effective termination date, consider telling the employer you might take a cut in pay in return for a higher bonus or commission. If you are told you were fired for poor performance, ask to be placed on final warning or probation and given one last chance. And if you must stay on the payroll a little longer because you desperately need the money that a regular paycheck will bring (e.g., to pay for your child’s large tuition bill that is due in a few weeks), tell the employer you are willing to work different or part-time hours, or will accept a transfer or even a temporary demotion if this is applicable.

This is a very important concept to think about and act on. Too often, employees accept a firing very close to the vesting of a significant financial benefit without a fight.

You may also have grounds for a valid lawsuit in the event you have a vested pension but are fired just weeks short of becoming entitled to greater severance, larger monthly pension payments, and improved medical and insurance benefits. Cases demonstrate the responsibility of employers to comply with all pension laws and ERISA provisions regarding severance when a business is sold or when company policy has created an expectation that the purchasing company will continue an established severance policy crediting employees with prior years of service from the selling company.

For a full depth analysis on this topic and many more, visit to purchase “The Employee Rights Handbook” today!


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