These days, practically everyone is an at-will employee. Being an at-will employee means that your employer doesn’t even need a good reason to fire you — as long as it’s not for something illegal, such as retaliation or discrimination. It’s pretty scary to know your employer can fire you for just about anything — and really frustrating if you got fired for something you didn’t do.
Although your employer could fire you for something crazy, you still have recourse. Find out now what to do — and what not to do — next if your employer gives you the booth for something you’re not remotely guilty of doing.
1. Don’t sign a severance agreement right away
According to U.S. News, if you are fired, you should not sign a severance agreement immediately. Many employers offer employees they let go a severance if they agree to sign a general release. If you sign that release, you are agreeing to not bring about any legal claims regarding your employment. Let a lawyer look over your severance agreement before you sign — you might actually be able to get more money, or you might decide you want to take legal action and decide not to sign it at all.
Next: Write everything down
2. Document why you were fired
It is essential that you document why you were fired, according to the website FindLaw. Make sure you include all the details: whom you spoke with, what he or she said, and how he or she conducted him- or herself. A good idea is to get it all in email so you can keep the records. It’s also a really good idea to keep a work journal to record anything employment related, such as performance reviews, reprimands, and comments your boss makes to you. Even if you don’t want to take legal action because that you were fired for something you didn’t do, you might need to show a future employer that you weren’t fired due to your own misconduct.
Next: Check out your work file
3. Ask to look at your personnel file
In most states, an employer must allow you to see your personnel file if you request it, according to FindLaw. This could be helpful if you were fired for something you didn’t do, because it might contain things that your employer added to your file after the fact to justify firing you. Make sure you review your file carefully, copy it, and keep the copy somewhere safe.
Next: Lawyer up
4. Consult an employment lawyer
Just because you’re an at-will employee doesn’t mean your employer can fire you for a couple of things, namely discrimination or retaliation. If you’ve been fired for something you didn’t do and you think it might really be because of discrimination or retaliation, consider talking to an employment lawyer, according to FindLaw. Many employment lawyers offer free consultations and don’t charge you anything until you recover a settlement.
Next: Calm down
5. Don’t freak out and do something irrational
It’s incredibly awful to be fired from your job — particularly if it’s for something you didn’t even do. But don’t freak out and do something crazy, says U.S. News. It will just make matters worse. Sure, it would be very satisfying to write an email to everyone in your work address book telling them about what happened, but you should be trying to protect your reputation, not ruin it more. Making a hostile exit won’t change what happened — and it will damage you even more.
Next: Get money coming in
6. File for unemployment
Employees who are laid off aren’t the only ones who are eligible for unemployment benefits. In most states, according to U.S. News, employees who have been fired are eligible to collect, too, as long as they weren’t let go for “intentional misconduct.” Make sure you file immediately, because it takes some time to get approved — and for your benefits to kick in.
Next: Take care of yourself
7. Make health care appointments right away
If you’ve been fired, you still likely can use your employer-sponsored health insurance until the end of the month. Because it might take some time to get up and running with new health insurance, make sure you do to any necessary doctor and dentist appointments you might have been putting off. You can choose to extend your health insurance through COBRA, a federal program, but it might be cost-prohibitive, so use what you have while you’ve still got it.
Next: Talk to your employer
8. Ask your employer this important question
According to U.S. News, it’s important to talk to your employer about the way your leaving the company will be handled should potential new employers ask. Try to negotiate something along the lines of your employer saying you separated on neutral terms, or ask if your employer might confirm only what dates you worked for the company.
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