Losing your job unexpectedly can be a devastating experience, especially if you believe the reason for termination was unfair or illegal. Wrongful termination goes beyond what’s allowed with at-will employment, and an employer who fires an employee for reasons other than poor work performance or policy violation may be liable. If you think you’ve been illegal fired, contact an employment attorney immediately.

From an Employment Attorney: What to Do If You’ve Been Wrongfully Terminated

What to Do Immediately 

If you suspect you’ve been terminated for an illegal reason, taking immediate action is important. Start by gathering all the relevant documentation, including your termination letter (if provided), employee handbook, performance reviews, pay stubs, your employment contract, and any communications with your employer related to your termination or the events leading up to it.  

Additionally, it’s helpful to write down as many details as you remember about your termination and the circumstances surrounding it. Include specific dates, names of individuals involved, and any significant incidents. While you gather evidence, avoid contacting your former employer directly. Any communication with your former employer is best handled by a qualified lawyer at this point.

Additionally, consider filing for unemployment benefits while you search for new employment, even if you believe you were fired illegally. It’s helpful to start this process while your work experience is still fresh. When asked about your previous employment situation by potential employers, be truthful but brief with your explanation. Focus on framing the situation in as positive a light as possible without misrepresenting the circumstances: ask your lawyer for advice.

Seek Legal Counsel

Consulting an experienced employment attorney is the most important step you can take if you believe you’ve been a victim of illegal termination. A lawyer can help you evaluate whether your termination violated Missouri or federal law, determining if you have grounds for a legal claim. They can assist you in gathering evidence to support your case, including witness statements, company records, and other documentation.  

Your lawyer will also help you work within the statutes of limitations (the timeframe within which you must file a claim), correctly file with the proper agencies, and follow all procedures involved in the process. If necessary, an attorney can also effectively communicate with your former employer, negotiate potential settlements on your behalf, or file a lawsuit.

What to Look For in an Employment Lawyer

Look for an attorney with proven experience in handling wrongful termination cases specific to Missouri laws and regulations. Your ideal lawyer should have in-depth knowledge of both Missouri state laws and federal laws that prohibit discrimination, retaliation, and other illegal employment practices and extensive experience in this area.

Strong communication and negotiation skills are essential, too, as your attorney will be advocating for you throughout the process. Finally, ask about the attorney’s success rate in wrongful termination cases. If they have a history of securing positive outcomes for their clients, that’s a good way to gauge their expertise.

Taking Action

Explore Internal Grievance Procedures

Sometimes, an employer may have an internal grievance process outlined in the employee handbook. If this is the case, familiarize yourself with the procedures and deadlines. While internal processes won’t always resolve termination disputes, sometimes they can present an opportunity for an early resolution.

They can also be especially helpful in that, through following them, you may get more communication from your employer that can help your case later. Additionally, these procedures may flag up that there are specific reasons for which an employee can or cannot be fired, which could reveal that your firing violated a company policy.

File a Complaint

Depending on the nature of your termination, you’ll want to file a complaint with the appropriate government agencies. The Missouri Commission on Human Rights (MCHR) handles discrimination complaints, while the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) addresses discrimination claims at the federal level. There may also be other relevant agencies depending on your specific circumstances, such as the Department of Labor: your lawyer will help you figure out the best agency to file with.

Review Your Severance Package

If your employer offers a severance package, carefully review the terms before signing. The package may include clauses that waive your right to sue or file claims, so having an attorney review the agreement will ensure you understand its full implications and don’t forfeit your rights unknowingly.

Network and Prepare for the Job Search

While pursuing legal action may take time, actively looking for new employment is important not just for your personal wellbeing and career future, but also for your claim should you have to go to court. Update your resume, reach out to your professional network, and explore job boards and company websites.

Potential Damages You May Recover

If you are successful in proving your wrongful termination claim, you may be entitled to several types of damages to compensate for your losses. These can include back and front pay. The first covers the wages you would have earned from the time of your termination until you find a comparable new job or until the date of trial. The second is awarded when reinstatement to your previous job is not feasible. Front pay aims to compensate you for the future wages you’re expected to lose due to the termination.

You may also receive compensation for the costs associated with losing benefits such as health insurance, retirement contributions, or stock options that were provided as part of your employment. And since illegal termination can cause significant emotional and mental stress, damages may be awarded to compensate for anxiety, depression, loss of reputation, and other forms of emotional suffering.

In very rare cases, where the employer’s actions were particularly egregious or malicious, the court may order punitive damages. These damages are meant to punish the employer and discourage such misconduct in the future. Also, in some cases, you may be able to recover the costs of your legal fees and other expenses associated with pursuing a claim.

Assessing Potential Recovery

The specific amount of damages you may be entitled to will depend on the factors surrounding your case. These include factors such as the severity of the illegal termination, the length of your employment, your salary and benefits, your efforts to find new employment, and the strength of your evidence.  An experienced employment attorney can help you thoroughly assess the potential value of your claim and the best strategy for obtaining a fair outcome.

Other Things to Know

In a wrongful termination claim, you generally bear the burden of proving that your employer’s stated reason for firing you was a pretext and the real reason was illegal or in violation of your contract. Proving this can be difficult, which is another reason it’s best to have a lawyer on your side. However, don’t forget that even with strong evidence and a skilled attorney, there’s never a guarantee of success in legal proceedings. A good attorney will always provide you with an honest assessment of your case and the potential outcomes.

Losing your job can be a devastating and overwhelming experience, especially if it was done wrongfully. If you’re in Missouri and believe you’ve been a victim of wrongful termination, contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Holman Schiavone, LLC right away.