Laid Off? These Are The Legal Rights That Can Protect You

You can bring a lawsuit for wrongful termination when you have been fired or laid off from your job for an illegal or improper reason, such as discrimination or retaliation. Workers who have been wrongfully terminated have a limited time in which to bring their claim. This time period is set by each state’s statute of limitations. In California, the time window can be 2 or 3 years.

Can I sue for wrongful termination in New York? Yes; employees can file a lawsuit if their employer illegally fires them.

What type of claim do I have, and is it worth fighting?

Of all the potential claims, Siegel finds that Family Medical Leave cases tend to be easiest to win, assuming you have good evidence. “Everyone knows someone who’s been sick, so juries are more sympathetic,” he says. In addition, the standard of proof in such cases is more lenient than in other cases.

Take age discrimination cases, for instance. Those require the higher “but for” standard of proof, says Siegel. In other words, you have to prove that “but for” your age, you would not have been terminated. Also, in age cases, even if you do win, don’t expect large payouts. The ADEA doesn’t allow for emotional distress damages or punitive damages, says Siegel.

With racial and sexual discrimination cases, the burden of proof is slightly less stringent—you just have to show race/sex was one factor in the discharge, says Siegel. The challenge is trying to get a unanimous jury to agree. If you can, though, you may win compensatory and punitive damages (which are allowed), says Siegel, especially in states like California where damages are uncapped.

Under what circumstances should you sue?

At-will employment aside, if you think you have a good case, you could go ahead and sue your employer, but bear in mind that it’s an arduous process, says Siegel. Ask yourself these questions:

Was the Layoff or RIF Illegal?

An employment lawyer will examine the details of your layoff. For example, if a large number of the employees selected for a RIF all belonged to the same legally protected group (such as people over 40) and you are in the protected group as well, the employer may have targeted you for an illegal reason (age discrimination, in this example). (For more information about wrongful termination claims, seeWrongful Termination: Was Your Firing Illegal?)

Even if the overall layoff was legal, you might have been included in the layoff group illegally. For example, perhaps your position was not initially selected for layoff, but your manager put your name on the layoff list after you complained of sexual harassment or dangerous working conditions. A lawyer will ask you questions about your work history, performance, and more to figure out whether your employer included you in the layoff to mask a wrongful termination.

The lawyer will also ask you questions to find out whether the employer fulfilled its obligations for even a legal layoff or RIF. For example, an employer must pay you a final paycheck with all of the wages you have earned within the time required by state law. And, if the lay-off was part of a plant closure or a mass lay-off, the employer must give employees 60-days notice of lay-off. (For a discussion of plant closings, see Layoffs and Plant Closings: Know Your Rights.)

Can I Sue If I’m Laid Off by my Employer


What to do immediately after being laid off?

  1. Request a ‘Laid-Off Letter’ from Human Resources. …
  2. Inquire About Your Health Insurance Benefit. …
  3. Collect — Or Check On — Your Final Paycheck. …
  4. Review Your 401(k) and/or Pension Plans. …
  5. Investigate a Severance Package. …
  6. Register for Unemployment. …
  7. Put the Internet to Work for You. …
  8. Reinvigorate Your Resume.

What happens when workers are laid off?

When laid off, employees lose all wages and company benefits but qualify for unemployment insurance or compensation. Laid-off employees often do not lose their investment in company retirement plans such as a 401K and may be entitled to a severance package.

Can you sue someone you were fired?

If you have an employment contract for a particular term or length of time, or a contract stating that “good cause” is needed to fire you, you can sue for breach of contract if you were fired for reasons that were petty, trivial, unfair, untrue or fabricated.

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