Fired from a Job
Employee rights provide only limited protection for getting fired from a job. That's mostly because of the Doctrine of Employment at Will.
In the absence of employment agreements (contracts) that indicate otherwise, the U.S. legal system presumes that employment relationships are voluntary and indefinite under the Doctrine. Virtually all states enforce the Doctrine to some degree.
Subsequently, employers generally may fire employees for any, no or even unfair reasons, the same as employees generally may quit their jobs for any, no or even unfair reasons.
Contrary to popular belief, employers generally may also speak candidly about the reasons they fired employees when potential employers conduct employment background checks.
Employers may not, however, illegally fire employees; but, just because getting fired from a job seemed unfair doesn't mean that it was illegal.
For an unfair firing to be illegal, it must violate a law, regulation, constitutional provision, legal principle or concept, public policy, or the employer's own discharge policy. For more information about the types of unfair firings that might be illegal, read Wrongful Termination.
Even if you "legally" get fired from a job, your employee rights still might entitle you to collect state unemployment insurance benefits depending on the circumstances under which you were fired.
Your employee rights might also still entitle you to continue your employer-provided health insurance benefits at group rates, under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA).
However, if you get fired from a job for gross misconduct, such as for serious criminal or sexual misbehavior, then your employer might have the right to deprive you of voluntarily-provided termination benefits; examples are severance pay and accrued sick pay.
Likewise, your employer might also have the right to dispute your application for benefits otherwise required by law; examples are the unemployment benefits and COBRA insurance mentioned above. But, if you are denied such a benefit because of your employer's dispute, then you'll likely have the right to appeal the denial.
Exactly when your employer must issue your final paycheck after firing you depends on state final pay laws, which vary by state. But, it's likely that your employee rights entitle you to collect earned wages immediately, by the next regularly-scheduled payday or no more than 30 days after you get fired, as those are the most common time periods mandated.
Contact the relevant state labor department or browse its Web site for more general information about getting fired from a job. Consult a lawyer for specific legal advice that fits your particular situation.
If you need to know what to say during interviews after getting fired from a job, read the free article "Best Answers to Why You Were Fired" by our colleague Alison Doyle, job-searching expert and author.