In most circumstances, employment agreements are entered between the employee and the employer on an at-will basis. This means that either party can terminate the relationship for any reason, so long as it is not an illegal one in the case of employers.
For these purposes, an at-will employment relationship will allow an employer to fire or otherwise terminate an employee for any reason that is legal. However, the nomenclature can be hard to understand. It is also important for purposes of understanding continuing benefits, future job applications, and in some cases, whether there was, in fact, a wrongful termination.
Termination of an Employment Relationship – The Basics
When an employment relationship is defined as an at-will relationship, then either the employee or employer may end the relationship at any time and for any legal reason. There are some special exceptions for this if it is defined in the employment agreement contract. However, typically employment relationships are at-will.
Typically, when an employee is fired in a legal scenario, this may have to do with the employee’s job performance or inability to follow company policies. On the flip side, layoffs usually occur when the employer has an economic reason which makes financial or practical sense to terminate the employment relationship with some employees.
Being Laid Off
Usually, layoffs occur for reasons that are unrelated to the employees’ individual performance. Rather, the company may need to cut costs, reduce the size of a department, or scale back operations. Primarily this occurs due to a change in the business model or for financial reasons.
Also, layoffs are usually applied to a group of employees instead of just one or a few of employees, which is more common in a situation in which the employee or employees are fired instead of part of a layoff.
When is A Termination An Unlawful Termination?
Whether an employee is told that he or she is fired or part of a layoff by the company, there is a potential third option. An unlawful termination occurs when the employee is terminated for unlawful reasons. For example, the employee may be fired because of legitimate complaints that were raised about sexual harassment or unlawful discrimination. Similarly, the employee may be included in a group of laid-off employees because of raising legitimate, lawful concerns to the employer.
Even if the company needed to lay off some employees, if an employee was part of the group that was laid off because of some unlawful reason, such as raising a complaint to the company or their superiors about mistreatment in the workplace or due to some discriminatory purpose, then there may be a case for an unlawful termination.
Proving Wrongful Termination
It becomes more difficult to show whether an unlawful termination occurred when the company otherwise had a legitimate need or reason to lay off a group of employees and those employees were laid off for reasons that were not unlawful. However, it is possible that the employer disguised the termination that is otherwise wrongful by including an employee as part of the group that was to be laid off. This would be so if that employee was only laid off due to unlawful reasons.
An employee that is fired may also fall under an unlawful termination situation. The facts are similar here except that typically, the employer is not including that employee with a larger group of people that are being let go for business reasons. However, whether the employer classifies it as being fired or being laid off to the employee does not mean that the employee does not have a potential claim for unlawful termination.
Why The Difference Between Getting Fired and Being Laid Off is Important
Beyond the ability to potentially prove an unlawful termination claim, the difference between an employee being fired and an employee being laid off can have many other implications for that employee. It can impact their future employment prospects, continued benefits eligibility, final compensation package, and more.
If there is a claim for unlawful termination, then the employee may wish to speak to an employment attorney to understand what remedies he or she may have because of this end in an employment arrangement. By allowing the employer to simply disguise the true reasoning for ending the employment, the employee could be sacrificing key benefits to which they are otherwise entitled to. They also may have difficulties in finding future employment. Additionally, the employee may be entitled to remedies or additional compensation if the termination was based on unlawful reasons.
Understanding the Law and Your Rights
This area of law can be difficult and it is hard for employees to know what to do when faced with the situation that they no longer have a means of employment. Since it is a hard subject to discuss, especially if it may have been done so for discriminatory or otherwise unlawful reasons which would likely impact the employee emotionally and perhaps physically, consulting with a neutral party may be a wise idea.
This can help the employee understand his or her rights and know-how to proceed going forward in the way that benefits them the most, given what that employee did and his or her performance at the previous job.
Unsure of Your Options Following Termination From Your Job? Contact an Attorney Today.
If you or someone you know has recently left a place of employment involuntarily and are unsure about whether you were fired or laid off, then you may want to consult with an expert. Given that you could be entitled to different exit compensation packages and need to know what category you fall into for purposes of applying to new jobs or government-provided benefits, it is important to obtain clarification on your status.
This is especially so if you have reason to believe that your termination, whether it was called termination from being fired or from a layoff, was possibly a wrongful termination for which you have additional rights and a potential lawsuit.
If you need help in determining whether you were fired or laid off, or want to discuss further on the difference between these two means of ending an employment relationship and the potential implications of a wrongful termination situation, please fill out our contact form with your relevant information. Someone will get back to you shortly to discuss your case.