What to do if you’re fired
Terminations can be difficult situations, particularly where employees see the firing as unfair. The following are some helpful guidelines in navigating this difficult time:
First: Make sure that the employment relationship has ended and there is no misunderstanding about this. Employment may end by resignation, lay-off, or discharge. “Discharge” includes involuntary termination (being fired).
Second: Your employer may owe you unpaid wages for the days you have worked prior to your termination. Have you been paid for all work performed beyond 8 hours per day or 40 hours per week? Have you been paid for work done during missed lunch or rest breaks? If you were eligible for vacation, you may also be owed payment for unused vacation time. (Note: “Use it or lose it” vacation pay policies are illegal.)
If any payment is due, your employer must immediately pay all compensation due to you. The employer should pay you “at the place of discharge.” If the employer tells you that they will mail the check, you must consent to such an arrangement.
Third: Employers are prohibited from requiring employees to sign a release of the employee’s right to any wages due, unless those wages have been paid. Some employers hold their employee’s final paycheck “hostage” until the employee signs a release. This conduct is prohibited by law. It is also illegal to require employees to execute a falsestatement of their hours worked.
If an employer refuses to pay all wages due after termination, the employee’s wages continue as a penalty until paid, for up to 30 calendar days. This is called “waiting time penalties.” Hence, if the employee is paid $15 per hour and regularly worked 8 hours per day, the employer may be held liable to pay up to $3,600 in penalty for not paying the terminated employee on time.
Finally, consider the circumstances of the termination. Even though employment relationships are generally at-will, an employer may not fire an employee for a discriminatory or retaliatory reason. Discrimination based on age, race, sex, color, religion, national origin, disability, medical condition, and pregnancy are illegal. It is also illegal to fire an employee in retaliation for the employee’s exercise of a legal right or for refusal to violate the law.
An employer who recognizes that an employee may have potential claims for additional wages, discrimination, or harassment may offer the employee additional money in exchange for signing a release. In this instance, the employee would be wise to consult with a knowledgeable employment attorney before signing the release or any document in order to protect his or her rights.
The Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr. welcomes inquiries about this topic. All inquiries are confidential and at no-cost. You can contact the office at (818) 291-0088 or visit www.joesayaslaw.com. [C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. is an experienced trial attorney who has successfully recovered wages and other monetary damages for thousands of employees and consumers. He was named Top Labor & Employment Attorney in California by the Daily Journal, consistently selected as Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine, and is the recipient of PABA’s Community Champion Award for 2016.]