Think You Were Fired Unfairly?

Your stomach knots and anger flares as you read that little pink slip of paper that just yanked away your professional security. How can you be fired?

You race through a mental checklist, grasping for what might have done you in -- but you were a loyal employee, you didn't even steal a pen, you were always on time, and you never cut corners with your work. Something just doesn't feel right about your termination.

Experts say even if your firing seems unfair, it may still be perfectly legal. "People generally think that they have a right to be treated fairly, and people usually believe they can't be fired as long as they didn't do something wrong," says attorney and career coach M. Diane Vogt.

But since most states don't look at employment that way, determining whether your termination was actually illegal could be a tricky and lengthy process.

Employment legislation 101

Most states consider employment to be "at-will," meaning that employment is considered voluntary and indefinite for both employees and employers. For you, at-will employment means you can quit your job for whatever reason you want, usually without consequence. And for your employer, at-will employment means "[u]nless you have a contract, you can be fired for any reason or no reason," Miami-based attorney Dale Bergman says.

There are, however, some exceptions to at-will statutes. Federal law prohibits firing an employee solely on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or age, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Web site. An employer also cannot fire a worker as retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, participating in an investigation or opposing discriminatory practices.

A lawyer might not be your best bet

If you have a strong reason to believe you were fired illegally, don't run to hire an attorney just yet. There may be better and less expensive options, Bergman says. suggests that as soon as you're fired, you should start doing some research:

Once you learn the facts behind your termination, Bergman says you should exercise the rights you have under your employer and state and federal law before taking legal action:

  • Stall for time. Stay calm and request some time to think things over.
  • Review your employment contract or letter of agreement. Review what it says about termination. If the employer didn't act according to the contract, your rights may have been violated.
  • Discover why you were fired. If the employer refuses to tell you or tells prospective employers other reasons later, you could have a stronger legal case.
  • Appeal to your employer. Many employers -- particularly large ones -- have an internal process to which you can appeal your termination.
  • Visit your regional EEOC. Employees can visit their local EEOC office without involving a lawyer, Bergman says. "They will investigate, and they will even try to settle [the case] if they feel there is substantial cause."
  • Hire an employment lawyer. If your employer doesn't settle and you still feel you have a strong case, enlist the help of an attorney.

Suing your employer has consequences

Besides being expensive and hard to win, wrongful termination lawsuits can be emotionally taxing, Vogt warns. "You have to decide if you can emotionally handle listening to someone talk about your shortcomings in a public forum," she says. "Sometimes that's hard to take."

Vogt also says any wrongful termination lawsuit you file will be on the public record and could be brought to the attention of your future employers -- potentially raising some eyebrows and having them wonder if you're a troublemaker.

"If you think your legal rights have been violated and you talk to a lawyer, one of the things you should consider is whether it's worth it," she says. Before suing, Vogt suggests you consider the stage of your career, how easy it will be to find another job, and how much money the firing will cost you.

Regardless of whether you decide to sue, being fired really may be in your best interest. "Usually when people lose a job, they find a better one," Vogt says. "What I find is that they'll hang on too long in a job where they're not really successful when they should have moved on a long time ago. So when the employer lets them go they're really doing them a favor."

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Alisha Cleveland

Hello, My name is Jamaal .I was employed as a contractor ship fitter at General Dynamics Nassco Norfolk/Earl for about 2+ years whom as of thru Jan., suppose to have layoffs. Recently as of Sun Dec.27, I had a incident with the security guards who worked the entrance/exit gate which in result caused me to lose my job.To brief it up, They were wanding at the gate and I was accused of trying to steal a 3$ used grinder wheel which was trash that I forgot to dispose from my coveralls due to and emergency evacuation (power loss). After taking the necessary steps going through chain of command, Supervisor, General foreman, Production Manager and General Manager to rectified the situation as to clean my name, I was told the accusations were ridiculous and my employment is wanted just unfortunately Security/HR wants me terminated which I don't understand why I can't even refute my case being something so small resulting devastating. Upon disputing my case, I've also found out they accused me of being disruptive and uncooperative which are malignant lies.They never stated that in the statement from the email that was sent out in my possession. Probably after finding out my employment was still welcome they exaggerated the story making me seem hostile but, I worked that following Monday Dec.28 so if i was a threat why was I informed of my termination Tues Dec 29. I worked the night shift so they had ample time to terminate the threat they supposedly encounter immediately for the safety of others in the yard as protocol should exercise.This has much greatly effected my livelihood and reputation with the company and future companies as theft is a severe offense. I've been told by numerous people even my bosses, I was being treated unfairly and they would back me up.The incompetent and dishonorable actions of the security guards cost me my career and now I'm scrabbling trying to find work with that violation in my file. Need advice on this situation as of now I feel helpless and neglected. How should I go about this? Thanks n Advance

January 07 2016 at 5:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Very good information. Reading this just makes good sense! Thanks

January 10 2015 at 1:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My cousin has 18 month contract at McDonalds through a staffing company. One day, a man from the staffing company came to let her know that she got fired for someone sent emails to her boss. In the emails, there were only good praises of her. But the point is that they are made-up emails. My cousin was not aware of it. Couple days later, she found out that her facebook account was hacked by someone through McDonald's IP address. At the same time, she received a text message from a strange person. This strange person sent the technical evidence that show her co-worker at McDonalds is the one behind the scene. The idiot girl was jealous and wanted the position that my cousin used to do. Then my cousin reported it to the staffing company and sent it to her former manager. But the manager at McDonalds and that staffing company did not care. Now she lost her job and she is so afraid to apply for unemployment benefits.

November 30 2013 at 1:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hi, they just fired my Husband. He is a VERY hard worker, working through his breaks etc. What I don't get is how someone who is great at their job get fired by word of mouth from other employers ( jealous employees) he is doing what he should be doing and, doing it right but, since he isn't slacking off messing around like, some of the other employees they get intimidated. Because, he could be the one taking their place. They would tell him oh, you don't have to work so hard. BTW, he has had this problem before but, he quit that job to get this one. The guys would mess with him such as, playing pranks on him and, all he wants to do is work and, move ahead. He is a serious worker. So many things about this termination is just fishy. So people, watch out for jealous employees I am telling you........I bet some of you out there have had this problem, this just isn't right. Hoping for something better now. :)

October 03 2012 at 6:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


Hi everyone. I was terminated from my employer because I could not return to work without any restricions following my rotator cuff surgery. I tore my labrem and had a bone spur removed. This was not an injury I sustained at work. Next Tuesday will be week 6 in recovery. I honestly didn't expect to be out that long but the surgery was more involed then my suregeon had thought. There were no hard feelings towards my employer, I just don't really know what to do. I'm 31 and I kinda don't know where to turn. Does anyone have any suggestions? Thanks for your time.. D

April 28 2012 at 1:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Alina Oklahoma

I was fired about 2 months ago for not being a size 10. When I first started i was issued shorts that were a size 10. About a month later my boss told me that people were complaining about my shorts and so she issued me a size 12 in shorts. Then a few weeks later she came to me again and told me that the size 12 shorts werent working for me and i needed to switch to pants. So while being fitted for pants they gave me a size 10 they were a little to tight and my boss told me "Gurdals are about $8 at Wal-Mart and i should probably invest in one. So I went an bought one. The pants still were a little to tight. So i bought my own black pants size 12. I wore those pants for about a little over 3 months and one day my boss told me that i couldn't wear them anymore because they were not issued by them. So i made an appointment to get a bigger size and when i went to the fitting i was told that "beverage servers don't go past a size 10" EVEN THOUGH THEY HAD ISSUED ME A SIZE 12 IN SHORTS A MONTH AFTER I STARTED. So they told me to try on the 10s again so they could see what they looked liked. I did and still didnt fit right. Later that day my boss called me to tell me that she was so sorry but she had to let me go because i wasnt a size 10. My friend that i worked with called me about 2 weeks ago and told me that they just hired a girl that she knew for certain she was a size 12 in both pants and in the shirt. I feel like I was discriminated against and I want something done about it. Is there anyone out there that has had this sort of thing happen or has any advice for me.

January 13 2012 at 12:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I was working as a data entry operator for a bank processing center. I acquired the job through a staffing agency. While there I developed an attraction toward a woman who also happened to be my lead person for most of my time there. I also had felt she had an attraction toward me as well, not in a sexual way but as a person. I did come clean to clear out the baggage in my mind, but after that our working relationship crashed, but I wasn't let go until five weeks later. I do have good reason to believe that I was set up in this case. The very next day I sent off a couple of thank you emails because I wanted them to have contact information should any future opportunities open up. A few days later I got wind through the staffing agency that a bogus email was sent out in my name. They fought to try to keep me from collecting unemployment benefits but eventually won when the woman at the staffing agency proved to me a no-show for the hearing. But she still refused to clear me for future projects even though I was cleared of any wrongdoing by unemployment and had a letter to prove it. Numerous tries for help were refused because my situation didn't fall under any of the types of cases they deal with. I was extended a few offers afterwards which all fell through just when they were getting ready to hire. This is why I may believe I have been blacklisted. Did not list this job on my resume, but with all the technology at everyone's disposal now I'm sure they had ways of finding out. Do I have any options for redress left?

January 26 2011 at 8:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I was told an email was sent from Brian Disney at Home Depot to my Boss Brian McMasters at American Residential Services (ARS) stating I could no longer work in the little York and highway 59 store due to the fact I was sitting for 35 minutes and also used a chair. I have a disability that is verifiable by the federal government which from my understanding if need be an accommodation could be supplied. So why was I denied an accommodation! By the way, I was sitting by the air conditioning unit that I promote and got 3 leads. Do you know a good lawyer. I have been patient an called corporate and got a reference number on the phone recorded call I placed to Melissa. She said 48 to 72 hours I would get a response back. I just used a chair by the service desk that no one was sitting in. There were two there at one time and then one. I did this after a gal by the name of Liz told me I could not sit on the sturdy unit I was sitting on about a foot and half off floor that held displays. She said it was a safety issue? I got a chair and she said it was for customers and I said I had a disability and needed to sit. So why didn't she get another chair from the break room was Mervyns (the top store manager's response.)

August 09 2010 at 2:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Cathy's comment

By the way the Home Depot store at Little York and highway 59 is in the Houstson, TX area if anyone should find this a good legal issue. I would prefer this not have happened but do think they should have accommodated me and not fired me.

August 09 2010 at 2:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Greg F in OKLA.

I am a 32 year veteran of McDonald's and have gone from a crew person clear up to Director of Operations for 13 stores. The "owner" wanted his store he hired me at to be as my others were in Texas;clean, good profit and low turnover. Well, I got in there and he transferred all of the managers that were there out and gave me all of the rejects in his company. He said to take each one and rehabilitate them and while doing this turn the store into number one in the company. It was a seemingly unrealistic challenge, but I took it. I was harrassed everyday from his supervisor. He told me day after day how terrible I was doing. I would point out the 21% increase in sales and the best cleanest the store had ever been. To make it all worse, he said for me to personally pay for the cash shortage in the restaurant with my money. He gave me a store that had no locks on any registers. I was to personally pay each month the shortage or be fired. After only 6 months they terminated me. I refused to pay the cash shortage of $140 my last month there. I had reluctantly paid it the prior months to keep my job. He is fighting my unemployment even when he was clearly in the wrong and I had done the impossible, turning the store around with all of the managers everyone else had given up on. I cannot now even get another position because the prospective employers call him and he bad mouths me and has ruined my outstanding reputation in the McDonald's system. The franchisees have a clause in their aggreement with McDonald's claiming them the exclusive rights to all of the employees, so McDonald's will not even speak to you if you were not a company employee. So, now I am out of work, without a chance for employment. This shows you that employer do what they want to do and can destroy you and your reputation, even when you do as they say and how they say it.

December 27 2009 at 5:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Employee loyalty means NOTHIN. I worked for 17 years at the local newspaper here in cedar rapids ia. Towards the end of my stay they actually tried to kill me. My suggestion to any and all people that still have a job is very simply. Your employer does NOT care about you in the slightest, as a matter of fact, there plotting right now to out source your job so they can say f you. Steal everything you possibly can, if it aint bolted down, steal it, and fukk them.

December 18 2009 at 1:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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