You’ve Been Fired, Now What?

You walk into a meeting, you see an HR personnel and maybe your manager. Your heart sinks. And here goes – you are given a notice of termination of employment.

The termination may be expected, or unexpected. Either way, it is bound to create disruption, stress, and anxiety.

What are you supposed to do right away? What if you make a wrong move?

Below are 5 immediate need-to-know's when you are handed the slip.

1. The on-the-spot reactions

If your gut reaction is to not sign anything on the spot, you are right. You should never be pressured into signing any document without having had an opportunity to consult with whomever you need to consult with. This could be a severance offer, final warning letter, or any other document that may be handed to you.

If you are offered a severance package, you may be given one week to respond. It may not feel like a lot of time and can add to your stress level. In reality, one week is likely enough time to get to a lawyer, to know your rights and options, and to decide on your next step.

Keep this in mind: the one week is simply an arbitrary timeline set by the employer to get the ball rolling, and has no real force and effect. In the majority of the cases, you will be able to obtain an extension; you simply have to ask.

Will the employer pull whatever severance offer that is already on the table if you do not respond within their imposed timeline? Technically, yes. However, if you are entitled to a severance, then you will be entitled to it regardless. Try not to let the set deadline affect your ability to move onto number 2 below.

In all cases, take the week, find an employment lawyer to learn your rights and obligations, before making an informed decision.

2. Understand your severance entitlements

Ideally, after two or three days, you should have spoken with a few people pointing you to reliable legal help. You may have spoken with some lawyers, set up a consultation, or even met with one.

Your lawyer should discuss with you basic questions including the following:

  • Is this a without cause termination, or is cause involved?
  • Are there issues regarding performance or employment history that may be relevant?
  • Is there a contract or policy that may affect your severance entitlement?
  • What is your total compensation? How may bonus come into play?
  • What is your job or specialization?
  • How old are you?
  • How long have you worked there?
  • Was there any unusual event leading up to the termination?
  • What does your future job prospects look like?

From there, you should learn from your lawyer what you are legally entitled to. Are you entitled to what is limited in a written contract or policy? Are you entitled to just the minimum employment standards? Or, are you entitled to greater common law compensation? How much does that mean in real dollars? Equally important, how is any of that impacted by your job prospects?

3. What is the value of your severance package?

Many severance discussions end in a settlement within weeks following the termination, without going to court. Others may advance to litigation. Your lawyer should discuss with you the expected timelines of going to court vs. not, and, why those timelines matter.

Generally, inherent in going to court is a much longer period of wait for you. With it, come different (and often greater) risks and uncertainties. For that reason, there is real and tangible value in getting money now, even if it may be less than your ultimate legal entitlement.

Therefore, in addition to understanding your legal rights, your lawyer should talk to you about realistically and practically, what you should expect.

Explore these issues with your lawyer. Understand critically the value of the severance offer or settlement you are contemplating. Get the dollars and cents equivalent of that from your lawyer.

4. Cost-and-benefit analysis

Once you understand how much your current severance package is worth, and the rough timeline estimates, you will be able to run a cost-and-benefit analysis on the different options available to you.

How much will it cost you to run a few weeks of severance negotiations? What kind of return are you expecting to yield? How does that compare to what you have now?

Do you have other options available? What are the cost-and-benefits considerations there?

Note, your lawyer is never going to guarantee the outcome, or, for that matter, any of the numbers related to these discussions. However, you should obtain enough estimated information to run an analysis.

Chances are, this cost-and-benefit analysis will be all the assurance you need to take the chance, and engage in severance negotiations.

5. What do the papers say?

Understanding what is in the papers you have been given is an important part of deciding what to do. If and when you are ready to sign, be sure you fully understand the effect of signing.

For example, if you are required to sign a Release, have your lawyer explain the document paragraph by paragraph. Understand what you can or cannot go after, once the document is signed. Know how your tax obligations may be affected. Discuss who you can share details of the settlement with. Do you need to take any other steps with respect to your social media profiles?

Will you have any ongoing restriction on competition or solicitation? What is the scope of the restriction? Is there any way around it? How enforceable is it?

Are you being asked to direct money to your lawyer? If so, how?

Do you have ongoing obligations related to job search? If so, will it affect your severance entitlement?

Take the time, be informed

Being told that you have just lost your job is stressful. Being told you have only one week to make decisions is even more stressful.

The key is to know that you have the right to learn about your rights. In other words, you are allowed to have some time. You cannot and should not be pressured into doing anything.

This will hopefully alleviate much of the stress and emotions that come with this process. Then, align yourself with a lawyer you can trust, and who can counsel you through this. Your lawyer should empower you with information, so that you are prepared to make the best decisions, and move on.

Resources on statutory entitlements

Below are some useful links on minimum statutory rights. Note, these just outline minimum rights, talk to a lawyer to see if you have greater rights: