Unemployment Law: What are Your Rights?
If you're fired, face the situation calmly and assess your options. Don't sign any severance agreement immediately, and seek legal counsel if necessary. Squeeze in any needed medical appointments while your insurance is still in effect, and file for unemployment as quickly as possible.
Your Final Paycheck
Even when you're fired, you typically have the right to receive your final paycheck. Different states have different requirements regarding when this paycheck must be delivered; some require that it be handed over on the employee's last day of work, while others give the employer a few weeks to make the final payment. In some states, the time period varies depending on whether the employee quit or was fired. Some states also require that unused vacation time be compensated in the final paycheck. Check with your state's Department of Labor to learn the specific regulations or to file a complaint if you don't receive your final paycheck in a timely manner.
Even if your health insurance is tied to your employment, you probably aren't going to lose your insurance. The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1986, commonly referred to as COBRA, guarantees most employees an 18-month continuation of the same health insurance they had while employed. While this insurance can be expensive, some terminated employees are eligible for partial subsidies.
Some fired employees and all laid-off employees are eligible for unemployment compensation. While this state-provided payment doesn't equal your former paycheck, it can provide a buffer while you search for a new job. Typically, these benefits last for a minimum of 26 weeks, though sometimes that time frame can be extended. Check with your state's unemployment office to see if you're eligible.
A Severance Package
The law doesn't guarantee any employee a severance package, but if you were hired under a contract, your contract probably outlines your severance agreement. If you were an at-will employee, check the employee handbook to see if it discusses severance pay. A severance package may include a certain number of months' worth of pay, a continuation of benefits, job placement services and reference letters. If your employer hands you a severance agreement while firing you, don't sign it right away. Instead, have an attorney look it over to see if any of the terms of your termination are negotiable.
Whether you're fired from a job or you leave voluntarily, you're legally guaranteed certain rights, though they may vary slightly depending on the state you live in. If you've been fired and you don't believe the employer was legally justified in the action, you may have further rights defined in your employment contract.