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Shulman Kessler
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of employment law

Know your rights when you are fired

Many people think that they can sue an employer for firing them, but most companies employ workers "at will." This definitely gives employers the upper hand in firing disputes, as they can terminate workers for any reason, or no reason at all, as long as the firing isn't retaliatory or discriminatory in nature.

Even then, employers determined to get rid of a worker can lay a paper trail straight to the unemployment line. In circumstances like that, it is especially important for workers to bring out the big guns, i.e., retaining legal counsel who is well-versed in employment law in order to level the playing field.

Even those workers who have tenure or are under contract usually have clauses that allow for termination "for cause." This term can delineate the reasons an employer can fire a worker, or it can be left undefined.

Not all employment contracts are written; some can be verbal. But a verbal contract can be more difficult to enforce when a boss promises certain things they fail to deliver.

When an employer crosses the line into wrongful termination, typically it will be for one or more of the following reasons:

-- Discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability. Some jurisdictions offer additional protection for marital status and sexual orientation.

-- Retaliation for filing complaints about the employer or their business practices.

-- Asserting legal rights.

-- Joining or forming unions

Few firings come like lightning bolts out of the blue, so if you suspect you are being set up to be terminated, you should take proactive steps now.

Start keeping an employment journal detailing reprimands, performance reviews, salary fluctuations, commendations and comments about your work and productivity. Note times, dates and witnesses.

Make sure to document the circumstances of your termination, including who informed you of it and the manner of dismissal. Copy and save emails and jot down notes about phone conversations. You or your attorney can also arrange to get copies of your personnel record should your case require legal action.

Source: Findlaw, "Your Rights when Losing or Leaving a Job," accessed May 13, 2016

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