I receive many calls from prospective clients who believe that they were fired from their jobs unfairly. Most of them are right – that is, they WERE fired and sometimes under circumstances that were not “fair” – but very few of those callers have a case against their former employer for wrongful termination. How can that be?
Here is the answer. Most of us are generally employed “at-will.”. We can leave our jobs anytime and are not required to give our employers any notice before doing so. This is the”at-will” concept in action, and it is a double-edged sword. As a general rule, an employer can fire an “at-will” employee any time, for any reason or for no reason at all. In fact, the employer does not even have to provide a reason for the termination. No kidding.
What this means is that you can be fired for a reason that seems silly, is bad business or is just plain incorrect (for instance, because of the mistaken belief that you were late for work or had an unexcused absence.). This feels very unfair – because it is – but the employer’s conduct under these circumstances usually does not violate the law.
As with every general rule, the “at-will” rule has exceptions. Whether or not you fall into one of those exceptions usually depends on the REAL REASON for your termination. This may or may or may not be the reason given to you when you were fired. (I know – I said the employer is not required to give you a reason. In my experience, however, most of them do.)
So, how do you know whether or not you fall into one of the “exceptions?” In upcoming posts, I will talk about some of those exceptions, including the ones that I commonly see in my practice.
In the meantime, if you were fired from a job, you should do three things immediately. First, send your former employer a letter requesting a copy of your personnel file. Your former employer is required by law – M.G.L. c. 149, s 52C – to provide you with a copy within five business days. Second, write down (type, text, record – you get it) exactly what was said to you when you were fired and by whom. What was the date? Time of day? Where were you? Who was present? Did anyone take notes? You need to capture this information while it is still fresh in your mind. Third, apply for unemployment benefits immediately.
Janie Lanza Vowles represents individuals and businesses in a variety of wrongful termination cases, including cases involving disability discrimination, failure to accommodate, and retaliation. If you have a question about this blog post or any other employment-related issue, feel free to contact Attorney Vowles to discuss your matter further.