Checklist of steps to consider when fired
But if you think these steps are the full story
or that you would not benefit from legal advice upfront,
then you are being naive,
and you could mess up your potential case horrendously,
and possibly destroy the chance for an honorable settlement.
FIRST SOME CAUTIONS for government employees and people with contracts of various types:
- Government employees have special rights, some terribly short deadlines, and some complex procedural requirements, and this discussion does not apply to them. I talk a little bit about the rights of government employees in the following article: government employees
- Contracts of various types can change or limit your rights, and might require you to follow special procedures. If you have a contract or an arbitration agreement, you should see a lawyer right away to determine the effect, if any, on your rights and procedures.
Some employees have arbitration contracts, and those contracts usually try to limit your right to sue under the discrimination laws.
Union employees usually have to file internal grievances quickly, but most non-government union contracts do not try to limit your right to sue under the discrimination laws.
A lawyer can help you design a strategy that may capitalize on the rights afforded you in the contract, as well as the rights afforded under the laws. A lawyer can help you avoid making mistakes under the contract as you try to get some justice. The mere existence of a contract could change the strategy you should follow for many reasons.
- If you have a non-compete agreement you should see a lawyer right away.
- If you received a severance contract to review at the time of your termination, you should see a lawyer right away. Ideally, you should see a lawyer before taking any other steps.
Generally, if you were fired
consider taking the following steps:
- Apply for unemployment. Look in the phone book for the Division of Employment Security. You apply online these days. I can help with unemployment appeals. Plus, be careful what you say and don’t say, because you could mess up your potential case in the unemployment process — Lawyers like to control the conversation from the very start, to avoid such troubles.
- If you think you might need a lawyer, try to quickly get a lawyer before taking any steps because everything you say will be used against you and everything you don’t say may be used against you. See my complaints article for more info. See my article on requests for consultations for how I will handle your inquiry if you decide to call me. Here’s some more info about employment lawyers and how to find one.
- If you were retaliated against, you might have the right to file complaints with other offices of the Federal and Missouri governments. I talk more about this in my articles about
wrongful termination, and discrimination.
- Consider immediately requesting a service letter (read the article for how to make a proper request). The service letter is helpful to lawyers in evaluating your case. In addition, you can sue for any violation of the service letter law that occurs (if you made a proper request for the service letter).
- Consider immediately making a written request for any unpaid final wages. You can sue for a penalty if the employer did not pay your unpaid final wages within 7 days of your written request.
- Consider following your employer’s internal grievance process if one is available. But be aware that your deadlines continue to run for filing charges of discrimination and taking other steps allowed by the various laws. Be aware that the things you say and don’t say in the grievance will be used against you later in court if you end up suing. See my complaints article for more info.
- At some point it may be time to either sue or forever hold your peace. If you don’t have a lawyer yet, get one.
If you got fired under circumstances that you think might be discriminatory:
- You have the right to file a charge of discrimination and have your circumstances reviewed by the government for free.
- Immediately call the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in St. Louis at 314-539-7800 or the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (MCHR) at 314-340-7590.
- The EEOC or MCHR will promptly send you a packet of information and forms to fill out. See my Complaints article for some info about how everything you say (and don’t say) on these forms could come back to haunt you.
- The EEOC or MCHR will review your information, and might conduct an investigation.
- TRAP: You have short deadlines to file with the EEOC or MCHR. Depending on the case, your deadline could be 180 days or 300 days from the date of the discrimination. It’s probably best to have your complaint formalized within 180 days to make sure you meet the earliest of the deadlines. Don’t wait until the deadline to file something, because it takes time to formalize your complaint.
- In some cases, the EEOC or MCHR might actually help you.
- But in most cases the EEOC or MCHR ends up issuing you a “right to sue” letter.
- The right to sue letter is important: it is your permission slip to file a lawsuit.
- TRAP: The MCHR does not automatically issue the right to sue letter – you must ask for it, and if you fail to ask for it in time your rights could be lost.
- TRAP: The right to sue letter will expire in 90 days, and your rights are gone. So get your lawsuit filed within 90 days.
- If you don’t have a lawyer by the time you get a right to sue letter, then start calling lawyers as soon as you get your right to sue letter.
- TIP – Filing a lawsuit without a lawyer: If you can’t get a lawyer, and your deadline is approaching, you can still file a lawsuit. If your case can be filed in Federal Court, call the clerk of the U.S. Eastern District Court in St. Louis – the clerk has a packet of info for people who need to file employment cases and don’t have lawyers (see the link to the their website on my front page). Don’t miss your filing deadline. File a lawsuit even if you don’t have a lawyer. After you file the lawsuit, you can take a deep breath and relax, because you’ve met your deadline. Then you can continue calling lawyers until you find one to take on your case.
- TRAP: If your employer employed fewer than 15 or 20 people (depends on the law), you might have to file your lawsuit in a Missouri State court rather than Federal court. Missouri State courts don’t give out packets of info to help you, but in the St. Louis area you can go to the SLU or Wash U law libraries and do some research to learn how to file a lawsuit.
It might help to have a lawyer involved from the earliest stages. Your lawyer can handle the EEOC or MCHR charge for you.
I have more information and tips and traps in the following articles:
FAQ about job law,
Things I like to see in cases.
If you got fired in retaliation for something:
If you engaged in “protected activity” then you might have a retaliation lawsuit of some type, or at least a good faith basis to make a formal complaint. I discuss protected activities and retaliation claims in some detail in my retaliation, and wrongful termination articles.
If your protected activity was related to illegal discrimination, you can file a complaint with the EEOC and MCHR as I discussed above.
If you got fired and you have no idea whether the circumstances are illegal or legal, and you don’t have a contract:
Spend some more time reading the articles on this site, such as
retaliation, and discrimination. Your awareness might be raised.
If you got fired in violation of your contract:
You might have to march right into court and sue. Maybe something can be worked out outside of court. Maybe the termination gives you rights under the discrimination or wrongful termination laws as well as a case for breach of contract. If you have a non-compete, that may affect the path you should take. If you have a contract, you need a lawyer.
I have more information and tips and traps in the following articles:
contracts for “gurus”,
If you got fired and the employer did not pay you all of your wages or commissions when you were fired
You can promptly request your final wages in writing, and the employer has 7 days to pay you or else a penalty kicks in. As the penalty gets bigger, it may be worthwhile to get a lawyer to sue to collect the penalty. See my unpaid final wages article. If you were a sales rep who has unpaid commissions, see my commissions article.
If you got fired in violation of the employer’s employment policy handbook
See my handbooks article.
FAQ about job law,
Workers Comp Retaliation,
Things I like to see in cases,
Unpaid Final Wages,
Contracts for “Gurus”,
The Sorry State of our Employment Protections
Article written by | Tim Willoughby
Phil is a Missouri employment lawyer who is licensed to practice in Kansas and Missouri, and primarily takes cases in Saint Louis and Kansas City.
He is a member of the Missouri Bar Association and Kansas Bar Association.
Additionally, he has practiced in the United States Federal Courts of Missouri in St. Louis and Kansas City.
He has also practiced in the Kansas Federal District Court in Kansas City, Kansas.