It gives this lawyer heart palpitations just writing about it: a mysterious meeting appears on your Outlook calendar, or your supervisor comes by your desk and asks if you can “talk in the HR office.” You can feel it in your gut; something is not right. A few minutes later, your worst suspicions are proven right. You’re fired.
A termination can be as stressful and emotionally damaging as a divorce—especially when it comes as a surprise or under suspicious circumstances. And a termination is the ultimate power imbalance; the company firing you is big, might have lawyers, and possesses all the information. You are one person, and lacking clues that might explain your termination.
So what do you do?
- First of all, take a deep breath and know your life is not ruined. We have seen clients recover, and thrive, after climbing out of seemingly impossible circumstances. But that climb requires a strategy, and sometimes a lawyer.
- And that leads us to the second step: gather information and act fast. Minnesota law provides tools that aid in this endeavor. You have the right to request a letter explaining the reason for your termination. Your request must be made in writing (email is fine) within 15 working days of the termination, and the former employer then has 10 working days to respond. Next, request your personnel file. Your former employer then has a week to provide the file, and must do so for free.
- Investigate by comparing your termination letter and personnel file to your own experience and memory. Does something seem off? Do the criticisms in your records not square with comments made by your supervisor? Could your termination have less to do with your performance, and more to do with your age, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, or disability? Did you speak up about possible discrimination or illegal practices not long before you were fired? Did you try to take FMLA leave or seek an accommodation for a disability? Does an offered severance agreement seem unfair given your service to the company, or make unreasonable demands (like a non-compete clause)—or did you not receive any severance agreement at all? If the answers to any of these questions is “maybe,” then you should call an attorney. The law might protect you.
- Meanwhile, do not forget self-care. Make sure you are taking care of your health. Obviously, this means eating healthy, exercising, and avoiding excessive use of alcohol. But it also means maintaining health insurance. Your previous employer should send you a COBRA letter about continuing your health insurance. Make sure you get your paperwork done in a timely fashion if you will require continued health benefits. Also, take care of your finances, and start by filing for unemployment insurance.
- Finally, when the time is right and your head is in the right place, start seeking a new job. Sometimes just the work of pursuing work can ease the burdens of losing a job.
While the burdens of termination might feel like they will crush you, know you are in a position that is not unique. Not even close. Right now, likely thousands of Minnesotans are experiencing the exact same feelings of anger, sadness, betrayal, and injustice you might be feeling. And let us again say: we have seen it all. Life will get better. As Florence Welch sings, “it’s always darkest before the dawn.”