Have a general question about employment law? Want to share a story? I welcome all comments and questions. I can't give legal advice here about specific situations but will be glad to discuss general issues and try to point you in the right direction. If you need legal advice, contact an employment lawyer in your state. Remember, anything you post here will be seen publicly, and I will comment publicly on it. It will not be confidential. Govern yourself accordingly. If you want to communicate with me confidentially as Donna Ballman, Florida lawyer rather than as Donna Ballman, blogger, my firm's website is here.

Friday, March 1, 2019

I Think I'm About To Be Fired! What Do I Do?

With layoffs happening in droves right now, many people are wondering what to do if the axe falls. While this is a stressful time, it’s also an opportunity to prepare. Here are some things to think about if you are about to be fired or laid off:
  • Potential claims: If you think you’re being singled out due to race, age, sex or national origin, start writing down the ways you believe you’ve been treated differently. If you are objecting to or refusing to participate in something illegal, make sure you document it. A discrimination or whistleblower claim might give you leverage to negotiate a better severance package. Now might be a good time to have a strategy session with an employee-side employment lawyer about how to document your case.
  • Look for a job: No matter why you may lose your job, polish your resume. It's way easier to get a job if you have a job. Don't procrastinate.
  • Signing termination papers and severance agreements: If your employer hands you a resignation or termination paper to sign and you’re not getting any severance, take a pass. If you will receive severance, be careful before signing an agreement. You may wind up agreeing to something costing you more than the amount of your severance, such as a requirement to turn down a job offer from a competitor. If the employer wants you to sign a non-compete clause and the restriction is longer than the number of weeks of severance, it’s probably not worth signing unless you’re going into an entirely new field. If you don’t understand everything in your severance agreement, have a lawyer review it with you to discuss claims you may have that could be potential leverage that you have that might get you a better package, and any changes to the agreement language that are necessary. 
  • Exit interviews: Some companies say you’ll need to give an exit interview after you’ve been fired. That’s because firms use exit interviews to cover themselves in case departing employees later claim discrimination or something illegal. Here’s the truth about an exit interview: Your employer can’t make you go to one. I’d suggest not giving an exit interview unless the firm offers to pay you the equivalent of your salary for the time it takes to do one. The trouble with exit interviews is that anything you say can come back to bite you later. I’ve seen people who were accused of making threats or engaging in inappropriate behavior during their exit interviews. If you do have the session, avoid the temptation to blast your supervisors or complain about their incompetence or mismanagement. Remember: These are the people who will be giving references to potential employers. So no matter what you think of them, hold your tongue. It could serve you well in the future. 
  • Gather your documents: Start gathering documentation of anything they owe you (commissions, bonuses, contracts, etc.), proof of any deals still in the pipeline you think you may be entitled to be paid on after you leave, copies of all employment agreements, confidentiality agreements and noncompete agreements you signed, your performance reviews, evaluations, commendations, awards, write-ups, disciplines, recommendation letters -- anything you can get about your performance, bad or good anything else you think might be useful to a lawyer or to unemployment. Copy any thank you notes, letters or great comments you’ve received from your boss; take any plaques, certificates and awards home (in case you’ll be asked to leave abruptly) and get a copy of your personnel file if you can, as well as the employee handbook and benefits policies. Be discreet, though. Don’t empty out your office in one day. If you do, your employer may say you quit. 
Hopefully you'll never be in the situation of losing your job, but be ready if you think it's about to happen. When the axe falls, you'll be too stunned to act rationally. Next week I'll talk about what to do during that termination meeting and right after.

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I appreciate your comments and general questions but this isn't the place to ask confidential legal questions. If you need an employee-side employment lawyer, try http://exchange.nela.org/findalawyer to locate one in your state.