So you’ve lost your job. Now what? Depending on the circumstances, there are several legal issues to explore before moving on with your career. Here is a basic summary of five issues to consider:
First, file for unemployment as soon as possible so you don’t miss any deadlines. There is no guarantee that you will be eligible for unemployment benefits but it doesn’t hurt to try. You may be eligible for unemployment benefits depending upon the circumstances surrounding your job loss and whether you receive any compensation as severance on the way out the door.
Second, consider whether you have a contract with your former employer, either individually or through a union. Today, at will employment is very common. Generally, employers and employees each have the option to terminate the employment relationship at any time for any reason or for no reason at all. However, an employee may have the right to enforce a contract if his or her employer failed to uphold the agreed upon terms of employment. The provisions of a written contract are more likely to be enforceable but even an oral promise may have legal ramifications.
Third, make sure you are fully paid by your employer. It is not unusual for an employer to fail to pay wages or to withhold a commission payment to a former employee. Employers may face stiff penalties for neglecting to make these payments. An employee may have several options to pursue a claim through the state or the court system.
Fourth, check to see if your former employer has any written policies or an employment handbook that may apply to you. While the terms of a policy or handbook provision may not be legally enforceable against your employer, it doesn’t hurt to bring the relevant provision to the attention of your employer to see if they will honor it. An example of a relevant provision would be a severance policy guaranteeing separation pay based upon years of service.
Fifth, verify what happens to your employment benefits now that you’ve lost your job. Health insurance is the most common benefit to consider here. Make sure to confirm when your employer will stop providing benefits. Also, consider whether you want to continue any benefits through an individual plan. You may be eligible for continued medical and dental benefits through The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (“COBRA”) as well.
This five-point list is not meant to cover all the possible issues that may arise when you lose your job but it is a starting point. Under some circumstances, more complicated matters concerning deferred compensation, employment discrimination and whistleblower claims must be considered. If you have any questions about your rights, please consult with an attorney.
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