Getting fired unfairly can be difficult mentally and financially.
There are some key steps you can take to bounce back, though.
As a former recruiter, I’m going to share what steps you should take if you’ve been fired unfairly and/or if you feel you’ve been a victim of wrongful termination.
Note: If you were fired legally and are not interested in pursuing legal action or a wrongful termination claim, skip to Step 5 below.
If you believe you may have been fired for illegal reasons, then start with Step 1:
Employment law is different in each state/country, so your first step after a possible wrongful termination should always be to speak to an employment attorney.
Only a lawyer can tell you whether you may have a legal case for wrongful termination.
A good lawyer will know both state and federal laws around the issue.
They can help you plan your next steps after being wrongfully terminated, or they can tell you if you have no legal case, allowing you to move on and focus on finding a new position.
A lawyer will also be able to review your employment contract to understand whether you’re owed severance pay, etc.
And if you’re worried about the cost of hiring an attorney, don’t be. Most employment lawyers will discuss your situation and determine if you have a case without charging you.
An attorney explained this concept on Twitter recently:
With the help of an attorney, you should be able to determine whether any laws were broken when you were fired.
I’ve been fired before. It was heartbreaking and humiliating. But the company was within its legal right to terminate my job without warning.
I was working in an at-will state (Massachusetts) where employers can terminate an employee at any time, for any reason except an illegal one.
The bottom line is: There’s a big difference between being fired unfairly and illegally. Sometimes, you’ll be caught off-guard and go through the upsetting experience of being fired, but your employer was within their rights.
When this happened to me, I accepted that the company had the legal right to fire me. I also accepted that the job wasn’t going well or a good fit for me, anyway. And so I moved on.
Fortunately, an employment lawyer can help you determine whether you have a potential legal case or not, so refer to step 1 above: Always speak to an attorney first.
If you do have a potential wrongful termination claim, anything you post on social media could hurt your case down the road.
So resist the urge to vent or tell your story on social media until you’ve spoken to a lawyer first.
Even a harmless comment that you feel was justified could make your attorney’s job more difficult. Let them determine what you should and should not share publicly.
While moving through this process, try to document everything you can.
Keep a paper trail of documents given to you by your employer, get a copy of your job description, and also keep all emails received from your former employer during this process.
Take notes on what is occurring as it’s happening in real time.
Write down the dates, times, and names of all parties involved.
All of these details can help your attorney determine whether you have a case or not.
Documentation and emails can provide proof of discrimination or other illegal reasons for being fired. So save everything possible.
Any time you’re fired unexpectedly, you should speak to the HR department to discuss how long your health insurance coverage will last and what your options are after that.
You can also refer to your employment contract to see if you’re entitled to any severance pay, and if so, ask them for further details.
You’ll likely be guided to talk to HR on your final day, but if not, follow up over email with any questions you have.
Whether you determine that you have a valid wrongful termination lawsuit or not, you’re going to need to find a new job soon.
I recommend focusing on that once you’ve completed the steps above.
Use your anger to energize your job hunt and find a new, better role.
Also, ask yourself: Did you really want to be in that job anyway? Did you like your boss, coworkers, and duties?
When I was fired, the harsh reality was that I hated the work, had very little in common with my coworkers, and felt isolated and unhappy in the office environment.
Getting fired was unexpected and challenging, but it also got me out of a job that I was not enjoying.
So be sure to focus on any positives (like the opportunity you have to find a better role now) and focus your efforts on what you need to do next to advance your career.
Even if your former employer was unfair and inconsiderate in firing you, it’s unlikely that it was a personal decision.
It was a business move, so as you try to move forward and collect yourself, do NOT take this personally.
One of the downsides of at-will employment is that employers can fire people with little or no warning, for a wide range of performance- and behavior-related reasons.
Labor laws in the US will not always protect you from this, as I’ve experienced first-hand.
So my advice here is: If a lawyer tells you that you have a valid wrongful termination lawsuit, that’s great. If not, you’re going to find a new job and be okay, also. But in either case, do not take the firing personally.
Doing so will simply distract you and prevent you from being able to do what’s needed next, which is to find a new role. It’ll also hurt your confidence most likely. More on that topic next…
It’s easy to lose confidence after being fired unexpectedly.
Just remember: The fact that one company didn’t see your value, or the fact you struggled in one role, doesn’t make you less valuable as a person or employee overall.
You will find a great company where your skills will be appreciated and where you’ll be rewarded well financially for those skills.
But if you lose confidence and assume no company will want you now, then you’ll be costing yourself opportunities (this is because employers look for confidence in the interview).
So before beginning your next job search, I recommend reminding yourself of your strengths, any prior jobs where you’ve been successful/appreciated, and what you can bring to your next role in terms of experience (including experience gained through this unfortunate event of being fired).
When you get fired, it’s tempting to quickly remove yourself from the situation and avoid anything and anyone that makes you remember what happened.
However, after giving yourself a day or two to gather your thoughts, consider reconnecting with any colleagues/coworkers you’d like to stay in touch with.
Send them a request to connect on LinkedIn if you aren’t already connected.
These people may be able to point you toward new job opportunities and provide job references.
Especially if you faced an unfair firing (or wrongful termination), many people will be on your side and willing to help if you reach out.
There’s a philosophy I like to take whenever something doesn’t go my way.
I look for everything that I could have done better or differently.
Even if the situation wasn’t my fault, there’s always a lesson or a way to improve.
So if I were fired (which I have been, twice) I’d be thinking the following:
These are just examples of ways you can examine the situation and learn after being fired unfairly.
The bottom line is: Getting fired happens to so many people, and you will bounce back. The key here is to learn any lessons available and then quickly refocus your attention on finding the next role in your career.
Once you do that, this experience will become just a small part of your career history.
Biron Clark is a former executive recruiter who has worked individually with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.
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