This is the second installment in a series on getting fired. Part 1—What to Expect When You're Getting Axed—appeared yesterday.
Yup—you are getting fired. You feel sick to your stomach. Now what?
Chances are you're in shock. So take a deep breath and take note of the following when you are in that unpleasant, awkward situation:
1. First, stay calm, shut up, and listen. It's vital to pay attention to the termination meeting—particularly, if you feel the firing was unfair and might warrant legal action, says Katherine Kimpel, managing partner of Sanford Heisler's Washington, D.C., office. "A smart employee will keep emotions in check and will try to use that meeting to get details on why they are being terminated. Employees should be polite and measured in the meeting and document what happened in the meeting. Those records will be very valuable if they end up talking to a lawyer later on."
2. Don't sign anything too soon. Don't be pressured into signing the termination papers, severance agreement, confidentiality agreement, or anything else on the spot. Take the papers, read them carefully at home, and consult an employment lawyer.
Though some employers have papers ready for the employee to sign, it's a bad practice, says management lawyer Steven Swirsky, a partner at Epstein Becker Green: "The employee is in shock, and can argue that it wasn't informed consent."
What's more, says Swirsky, employees over the age of 40 are protected by the Older Worker Benefit Protection Act amendments, which "require that the terminating employee be advised of his right to consult with an attorney and be given a minimum of 21 days to consider the agreement and release."
3. Negotiate for the best deal possible. You're fired, but that doesn't mean you have zero leverage. You can—and should—negotiate for better severance, additional time to use the office phone and email, and other benefits. Certainly, it never hurts to ask.
What might prompt your employer to give you a better package? One consideration is whether you might have some grounds to sue. Corporate Counsel advises employers to ask: "Has that person taken any sort of leave in the past year? Have they filed a workers' comp claim? Have they had a baby? Are they over 40? What is their racial or ethnic or national origin background? Have they recently complained about something?"
4. Make sure you know what a future reference will say. Luckily, the trend is to give prospective employers just the basic facts about the employment. "My advice is that employers have a standard practice in place as to what they will provide—dates of employment, last position held, final compensation—and that they stick to this in all cases," says Swirsky. Moreover, he adds, make sure that only the human resource department responds to reference requests.
5. Don't burn your bridges. As angry as might feel about getting axed, try to leave on a high note. And though it would be cathartic to tell off the jerks you worked for and leave in a blaze of glory, don't do it. Some of your former bosses might be squash buddies with someone you'll be interviewing with in the future. And, believe it or not, some of those jerks could help you land another job.
You never know.
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