One of the most exciting experiences I have as an employment lawyer is meeting a prospective new client, hearing their story, and starting to formulate in my own mind the many ways I’m gonna make that rotten company pay for what they did. As the story unfolds, I start to see a great case for wrongful termination. I start to get really excited about this case and how I’m going to get real justice for this client. And then, they tell me about what they did on the day they got fired, and the whole case turns to crap.
Maybe they went off on the boss and finally told him what they’ve really been thinking about him all these years, making themselves seem like a lunatic who needed to be fired.
Maybe they started yelling and screaming, refusing leave, or to do what security asked, demonstrating effectively that they were incapable of following directions and complying with policy.
Maybe they went the other way and started telling everyone how they understood, how they realized that their performance was probably unsatisfactory and how grateful they were for the opportunity to work there, thereby destroying the liability of the employer.
Maybe, hoping to deprive the bastards of satisfaction, they told the boss they were planning to quit anyway and finally start that vegan diner they’d always dreamed of opening, thus ending any possibility of getting damages.
Maybe they signed documents that gave away the case, because the boss told them it was usual policy to sign those papers.
What you do in the last 30 minutes you are on the company premises can make or break your case.
As hard as it may be, you’ve got to remember that this is not your day to have your say, to tell your story, to get even, or to exact revenge. That day will come, later, and it will be very satisfying. But it’s not the day you get fired.
I go over these in more detail in the video, but here’s an outline of what to do, and not to do, when you’re getting fired:
- Be polite and non-threatening and say as little as possible.
- Three things you can ask:
- “Is this a final decision? Is there anything I can do to preserve my relationship with the company?” Probably not, but it makes you look good to ask.
- “Will you tell me who made this decision?” They probably won’t tell you; let it go. You just want a name, or a refusal to give you a name.
- “What is the reason for this decision?” Whatever they say, don’t argue. You either want them to commit to a reason, or to refuse to give you a reason.
- Return any company property that you know belongs to the company or that you are asked to return. If there is a dispute about whether something is yours or the company’s, just calmly explain the situation and agree to do whatever they say. You can always work the issue out later.
- Leave as quickly and as quietly as possible. If they make you do a perp-walk having security escort you out of the building, just go along with your head held high.
- Get mad or yell. You’re going to be mad, you might want to yell, but don’t do it. It’s okay to cry.
- Don’t sign or agree to anything. You can always sign it later. Don’t ask for permission to wait before signing: “Is it okay if I take this home and read it?” Instead say: “I’m sure you can appreciate that getting fired is a lot to process, I’m going to take this home and read it and think about it and I’ll get back to you in a few days.”
- Don’t erase your hard drive or damage anything.
- Don’t take any company property, not even a paperclip.
- Don’t take any company files or data. What you can keep copies of is complicated and I’ll go over it in another post. But err on the side of caution here.
- Don’t sign onto any company websites or accounts. Just signing into an email account or company intranet can be made to look like some kind of hacking or security breach.
- Don’t say anything positive about your work experience or any of your bosses or coworkers. Look unhappy, which should be easy, and walk out.
Evaluating whether you have a viable claim for wrongful termination is a complex issue.
Aiman-Smith & Marcy is a boutique plaintiffs’ law firm based in Oakland, California. Our attorneys specialize in representing employees and consumers in individual and class action lawsuits for wrongful termination, discrimination, and for failure to pay wages, including overtime, meal and rest breaks, and failure to reimburse for expenses as required by law or agreement.