Getting fired is no one’s idea of a walk in the park. It’s an unpleasant feeling no matter what the reason for the firing may have been. This is ever truer when you know or suspect that your firing was based on discrimination or illegal punitive action for circumstances outside your control. When you’ve been fired, it’s important to ask yourself a few questions immediately afterward.
Check your feelings for a moment and try to be serious and honest with yourself. The best way to determine if you have been illegally fired and if you need to take action is to ask the following questions. Then act on the answers.
1) Do I Think I Was Fired Fairly or Unfairly?
Start with your own subjective experience. Most people feel that they’ve been fired unfairly, but from the outside, there may be a legitimate reason why you were let go. If you were on PIP for legitimate performance problems, if you told your boss to stick it where the sun don’t shine, or if you were involved in some ill-thought-out workplace pranks, you may not really be surprised that you were let go.
But this isn’t always the case, and fair firings are far more common with younger employees who don’t always make the right decision. If you’re certain that you were walking the line, being professional, and turning in satisfactory work, then your firing may well be unfair and based on a premise that could be fully illegal according to California employment law.
2) Was My Dismissal In Line With the Employee Handbook and Company Policies?
The next question to ask yourself is whether your firing is compliant with the employee handbook. This handbook that you should have been trained with and have access to will define the proper procedure for warning employees and the criteria for letting someone go based on unacceptable behavior, performance, or circumstance. If you weren’t given proper warning according to the rules, or your behavior did not warrant firing, then you were not legally let go.
3) Did the Person Who Fired Me Have the Authority to Fire Me?
Not all managers have firing authority, even if they hired you. In many organizations, managers need approval from HR or their own boss before they can terminate someone’s employment. So your supervisor may have gotten mad and said “You’re Fired” but that might hold no real authoritative weight in the organization.
If you’re not sure, call HR, or even show up for work tomorrow and march straight to HR to find out. This is particularly likely if your manager is not highly ranked or if they hold little real authority in the organization. Or if you’re dealing with a very new manager on the job.
4) Was HR Fully Aware of My Circumstances?
There are so many limitations to whether someone can be legally fired, and for what. A smart manager will run an intent to fire past HR before taking action to protect themselves and the company from legal embarrassment. But not all managers are smart or thorough. HR may never have approved your dismissal if they were made aware of it before it happened. If you’re not sure, or if you’re certain that the HR department (or HR person in smaller companies) wasn’t consulted, it’s on you to consult with them. Be polite and informative.
5) Was I Fired Because of My Membership in a Protected Demographic?
You know your workplace situation and your boss’s biases better than we can at this moment. Reflect back on why you think you were fired. If it has to do with your membership in a protected demographic (gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, etc), then the firing was both illegal and lawfully problematic for your employer. You’ll want to consult with both the company HR and an employment lawyer to make things right and reverse this unfairly biased decision.
6 )Was I Fired Because of Protected Personal or Family Obligations?
Also reflect on whether your family obligations may have played a part in your firing. If you have recently taken unpaid family leave or informed your boss that you intended to, for example, this may have contributed to the reason you were fired. Which would be illegal. Your choice in romantic partner, obligation to children or elderly parents, or your pregnancy or nursing mother status should also have nothing to do with your firing. And if they did, someone broke the law.
7) Did My Employer Fire Me Legally?
The answers to the previous questions and some thorough online research can help you answer the all-important question of whether your employer was even legally allowed to fire you, or if their rash decision just broke the law for them and your employer. If the law was broken, you’ll need to consult with an employment attorney and the HR department of your company to make things right.
8) What Should I Do Next?
Finally, make your plan. Decide if the right decision is to walk away from the job, politely reach out to HR for clarification, or to protect yourself and your rights by contacting an experienced California employment lawyer instead.
Here at Aiman-Smith and Marcy, our legal team is passionately dedicated to protecting the rights of California employees. Whether you work for a company that thinks’ it’s too big to respect its employees or a manager who fired you against company policy and the rule of law, we can help. Contact us today to schedule a consultation about your firing situation and we’ll help you forge the best possible path forward to get your job back and/or rebuild your life afterward.