Wrongful Termination in the Workplace : 7 Steps


It is a situation that culminates into one of a person’s worst fears. A random call has you headed for the boss’ office, but there is nothing scheduled. A few minutes later, it becomes abundantly clear that you are being let go. Furthermore, the reason for the termination is something you feel is ethically and fundamentally wrong. But what if the termination was legally wrong?

Most employment is “at will” which gives the employer the right to fire a person at any time for any reason that is not illegal.  Understanding the exceptions to the rule can help a person keep their job, or sue the employer for wrongful termination. It is useful for all hired workers to have a basic understanding of their rights as an employee. However, situation that would constitute wrongful termination can vary greatly and it is impossible to anticipate them all.

One of the most basic examples of wrongful termination is firing an employee based on the employee’s race, religion, age, national origin or disability. These are all forms of discrimination deemed illegal under the law. Similarly, firing an employee on the basis of his or her alien status would amount to wrongful termination in the United States or Canada if that employee is legally allowed to work in the country.

Occupational Safety and Health Standards are important components of workplace rights which are regulated by various government agencies. If an employee makes a complaint about a violation of safety or health standards, an employer is not legally allowed to fire them for that reason.

Failure to carry out an illegal act is another potential area for unlawful termination. Individual States, Provinces and territories have various laws related to violations of public policy. However, it is normal for state laws to prohibit an employer from firing an employee because they refuse to commit an illegal act, complain that their employer is conducting illegal activity or if he or she exercises personal legal rights. If an employee refuses to take a lie detector test, that is also not grounds for termination. These are just a few examples of what would constitute wrongful termination; many other possible instances exist.

So what should you do, is you are wrongfully terminated at work? Below is a list of helpful ways to help you handle the situation effectively:

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7 Key Steps in handling Wrongful Termination

1. Be Proactive

The old adage “prevention is better than cure” is very true when it comes to wrongful terminations of employment. It is advisable to look for signs that may indicate termination is on the horizon. Being proactive on that front can help a person take the necessary steps to protect themselves against wrongful termination, but also can provide more time to prepare should that happen. If you detect any signs of trouble on the horizon, however remote, start building your case even before anything happens. Take notes, keep records of correspondence and other details pertaining to your work situations, as these notes may help you later down the line. Remember though, that the admissibility or credibility attached to all of this documentation is vital to the success of your claim later, so make sure they are properly dated and stored. A document storage and verification system like Forensic Notes helps you to do just that.

2. Remain Calm

Assuming that you do get terminated, you need to move forward. This first step may seem simple, but it can be challenging for many individuals. Absorb the news, but remain calm at all costs. You want to avoid giving the employer any additional ammunition to justify their actions. It is best to walk out of the room with as much of your dignity intact as possible before venting your frustrations in a safe place outside of the office. Then take the time to write down and document as much detail as possible.

3. Research

The next step in the process takes some discipline and focus. Wrongful termination is often times not a black and white situation which means legal research is necessary. Depending on the particular laws of your State or Province, combined with Federal laws, there are quite a few reasons for termination that can be labelled as not lawful, so research, research and more research.

4. Document Everything

Once you have vetted the legal options that you have, begin building a case. Have a well documented timeline put together to ensure that you have a consistent and detailed account of events that led to your termination. It is a good rule of thumb to write down even the things that do not seem to be important. You never know what minute detail could play a crucial role in the outcome of your claim. Gather up any tangible items that could help your case such as emails, computer files, handwritten memos, text messages or voicemail's. Again, make sure that the authenticity of each and every one of these documents can be verified.

5. Get Legal Representation

At this point it is time to ascertain legal representation. Most lawyers who specialize in employment related cases such as wrongful termination are cognizant of the financial burden that follows for those victimized by it. The good news is these lawyers are usually willing to represent you on a contingency fee basis, especially if you have a strong case. This is a legal term that explains a lawyer will work for you without asking for an upfront attorney’s bill. Before moving forward with a lawyer, be sure to agree on the percentage that will be allocated to the lawyer if the case is won or settlement is reached.

6. Be Prepared

Legal cases can be unpredictable, long and arduous even when you go into it with strong representation and all your ducks in a row. Therefore, it is imperative that you take the time to put a plan together in regards to moving forward. It is also important for you to have a clear and concise way to explain to future employers why you no longer work at your previous job. A lawyer can help you come up with a brief version that is worth writing down for the sake of consistency. Try to give employers just enough information that provides them with some clarity, without violating confidentiality rules related to an open case. Defamation of your previous employer is also something worth avoiding as tempting as it might be to over share about this emotional experience.

7. Use Forensic Notes

Even as you go through each of these steps, bear in mind that good record keeping is one of the most essential steps you can take to protect yourself. All information that can help your case should be recorded and stored safely in a manner that will protect their integrity and ensure their authenticity cannot be challenged when you present them as evidence in support of your case. Forensic Notes’ Timestamping feature  protects and authenticates your documents with a timestamp from a trusted 3rd party Timestamping Authroity (TSA) that cannot be altered at a later time, meaning they are more likely to be trusted by the court, labour tribunal or alternative dispute resolution forum your case ends up in.

It is in an employee’s best interest to educate themselves on what their rights are. The best thing you can do after a wrongful termination is take things one step at a time. Be thorough, and avoid taking any short cuts once you have committed to fighting the termination.