Understanding Your Rights After a Job Termination

Unfortunately, anyone can face job termination. Whether you’re a CEO, a long-term employee, or just started a job, you can suddenly find yourself searching for a new employer. Along with the stress of going back into the job pool, there are also expenses you need to keep up with. After all, your bills aren’t going on hold while you search for a new source of income. 

Did you know your rights after a job termination? Yes, there’s a good chance you have legal rights even after being let go. Even if you don’t belong to a union, you may still be eligible to receive some benefits.Before you start panicking over the job loss, here’s what you should know about your rights as an employee.

Who Covers Employee Rights

Who covers your rights as an employee varies. For example, you may be covered under a contract or by a union—but what about if you’re an at-will employee? What even is an at-will employee? This applies to anyone bringing in an hourly wage and isn’t bound by a union or contract. 

A good example of this is an independent contractor. They work for and are paid by the employer but their position with the company isn’t guaranteed. Instead, they are working with the understanding their employment only lasts as long as their services are needed.

Contractual Rights

If you signed an agreement upon hiring, chances are you’re working under contract. This means both you and your employer have obligations to each other. Your obligations are to show up to work and perform your job according to the hiring details. Don’t be surprised if your contract is occasionally updated. This is common, especially if your position in the company changes.

Somewhere in the contract, you’ll find your employer’s obligations: find this section. Somewhere in the text, you should find information relating to your rights if you’re let go, and this may include severance pay or a continuation of your healthcare benefits for a specific period. Usually, your health benefits remain in effect for anywhere from one to six months after your firing date.

Before you take a deep breath and start relaxing, there’s a good chance these benefits only apply in specific situations. For example, if you’re laid off, you’re probably still entitled to some or all of your benefits. 

However, if you’re fired due to poor job performance or violating company conduct codes, this can make you ineligible for a continuation of any benefits. Once again, read your employment contract carefully before signing the agreement.

Company Policy

Sometimes, even if you’re an at-will employee, you’re still entitled to some rights after being laid off. Before you get too hopeful, check with your employer. Every company is different and it’s not legally required to offer all staff members benefits after a layoff.

You may still be eligible for healthcare benefits, as long as they’re provided by the employer. If you received an employee handbook when you were hired, now’s a good time to start thumbing through the pages; you should be able to find a section on employee benefits soon enough. 

If the section is missing, don’t give up hope—instead, check with HR, a manager, or the boss. The answer may be no, but at least you’re not left wondering if you’re missing out on unclaimed benefits.

Union Rights

If you’re a member of a union, there’s a good chance you’re entitled to benefits after being laid off. The type of benefits can vary. The industry, type of job, and your position in the company can all factor into which benefits you’re eligible to receive.

Some common benefits include continued health insurance for a limited time. You may also be eligible to receive partial pay for a few weeks. The pay may also come as a severance package. If you’re unsure of the terms or your rights, contact your union representative.

Statutory Rights

If you have no idea what your statutory rights are, you’re not alone. These are legal rights guaranteed under state and federal law. A good example is discrimination, where you can’t be legally fired or laid off due to gender, race, skin color, religion, etc. If this applies to you, it’s time to contact an employee rights or labor attorney. You may have grounds to file a discriminatory lawsuit.

The best place to start checking your legal rights as an employee is with the U.S. Department of Labor. You’ll find a wealth of information and resources that will help explain your rights.

What All Employees are Entitled to Receive

If you think all employees are entitled to receive advanced warning about their job loss, this isn’t actually a legal right. Unless it’s specially mentioned in a contract or union agreement, your employer can lay you off without any notice—yes, this is stressful, but employers also have their own legal rights.

With that being said, everyone is entitled to receive their last paychecks. There are very few exceptions to this legal right. If your termination is due to theft, your employer can deduct the amount from your last paycheck. However, your employer will need to provide proof of the theft and still give you a pay stub reflecting the deduction and the reason why.

A common question from former employees deals with unused paid time off. Are you still eligible to receive pay for these days? The answer depends on your employer. Most employees with PTO (paid time off) and paid vacation days can cash them in if unused. 

The amount is added to your final paycheck. However, this often only applies to union members and staff under contract. Once again, check your paperwork and contact a supervisor if you have any questions.

Talk to an Attorney About Your Legal Rights as an Employee

Understanding your legal rights as an employee is indeed complex, with variations in rights often seen across different employment types. For instance, contractual employees typically enjoy a broader range of legal protections compared to independent contractors, a distinction that often extends to union members as well. 

Given this range of complexities, especially in situations like layoffs, seeking the assistance of an attorney is a prudent step to ensure your rights are thoroughly protected and advocated for.