Being fired from your job without notice or a reason can be devastating. While job terminations can be traumatic for workers, employers generally have the legal right to fire their employees. Employers are not able to fire workers for unlawful reasons or in violation of a contract, however. If you have been terminated, the employment law attorneys at Swartz Swidler can advise you about your rights.
Are companies allowed to fire workers without notice?
Most employees work at will. This means that employers are not required to give them notice before firing them. At-will employment is an employment relationship between an employer and an employee in which either can end the employment without warning and for any reason. However, an employer may not terminate an employee for a discriminatory reason based on the worker’s protected characteristics.
Other exceptions to termination without notice include employees who work under employment contracts or collective bargaining agreements and when it is prohibited by state law. While all states except for Montana presume that employment is at-will, some states have other restrictions in place.
Employers are forbidden from firing workers based on their protected statuses. The protected statuses include age, religion, race, sex, pregnancy, disability, national origin, genetic information, and color. Employers are not allowed to retaliate against employees for reporting unethical or illegal behavior by their employers or whistleblowing.
The termination process
The majority of employers want to maintain high morale among their employees. When employees have good morale, they are more productive, and the turnover rate will be lower. Because of this, most employers will not engage in an ongoing practice of firing their employees without giving them notice. Many employers have written policies that govern the circumstances when employees may be fired.
Supervisors will typically be required under a termination policy to meet with an employee about performance issues and to give them warnings. The supervisors might create improvement plans to address problems. In these cases, the employees will be given time to improve. After the period has passed, the supervisors will review the progress that the employees have made and will make decisions based on whether the employees have improved their performance. An employee might be allowed to appeal a decision to terminate his or her employment. You can find your company’s policy in your company handbook, employment contract, or from the human resources department.
If you have been placed on a performance improvement plan, you should treat it as a sign that it is time for you to look for another job. At some companies, this is simply the first step that is taken before a worker is terminated. Immediately searching for a new job might help you to step into a new job without waiting to be fired. While you are looking, you should also try your best to try to fix the problems that were identified in your plan.
Many managers place workers on performance improvement plans when they want to fire them. Instead of thinking that you are being given an opportunity to improve, you might want to consider it as the first step towards your job termination. You should not view your job as safe when you are placed on an improvement plan.
Severance pay after being fired
While you might be fired without a warning, some employers still give fired employees severance pay. A severance package might include payments or benefits that are given to employees when they leave their jobs. It might include additional payments that are based on the length of time that an employee worked at the company and payment for the sick, vacation days, and paid time off that were not used. Companies might also agree to provide continued dental, medical, retirement, and life insurance as a part of the severance package. It is often possible to negotiate a better severance package than might be initially offered.
Employers give severance pay at their discretion. They are only legally required to offer severance packages in certain cases. For example, an employer that is completing a mass layoff might be required to provide the employees who are laid off with severance packages. Severance pay might also be included in an employment contract, meaning an employee might be entitled to receive it unless he or she engaged in gross misconduct. At-will employees are generally not entitled to receive compensation or severance pay after being fired, however. Employers are generally not required to provide post-employment compensation to at-will workers as long as they terminated the workers for non-discriminatory reasons.
If you are an at-will employee and believe that your employer terminated you for an unlawful or discriminatory reason, you have some options available to you. Start by talking to the human resources department to ask questions about why you were fired. If you want to take legal action after a wrongful termination, you can talk to the U.S. Department of Labor to learn bout where and how to file a claim. It might be a better idea for you to consult with an experienced employment law attorney to learn about the merits of your case and the legal options that might be available to you.
The attorneys at Swartz Swidler focus on employment law, including cases involving workplace discrimination, wrongful termination, and other issues. To schedule a free consultation, fill out our online contact form or call our firm today at 856.685.7420.