Dear Help Wanted: Does a company have to follow certain laws before firing someone? For example, does it have to warn someone before letting him or her go? --Firing Rights?
Dear Firing: Unfortunately, employees have few rights in this area. But two key exceptions exist, said Alan Sklover, a New York City-based employee-rights lawyer and author of ''Fired, Downsized or Laid Off: What Your Employer Doesn't Want You to Know About How to Fight Back.''
If an employment or union contract requires a company to warn employees before firing them, the company has to do that.
The second exception concerns the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires some companies to give employees a 60-day heads up before a layoff or plant closing.
Apart from that, in employment-at-will states, employees could be history at any moment.
But at-will freedom works both ways, Sklover said. At-will employees aren't required to give notice when they resign. Still, Sklover said they should advise their employers out of professional courtesy, even though some bosses respond by ordering the employees off the premises.
''I believe you should always act in a gracious way and show integrity, but be prepared to be shown the door,'' he said.
An increasing number of companies fire employees and shove them out immediately, according to Sklover. They take such draconian steps because they want to assert to the remaining workers who's in charge, or they fear retaliation from the fired employees, particularly computer sabotage. Even though the practice is legal, it damages morale all around and doesn't give the released employees closure in the form of goodbyes to co-workers.
Fired employees do have some rights. That list includes the right not to sign any documents presented by their employer immediately after firing.
''They shouldn't sign anything given to them, at least until they have had time to calm down and collect their thoughts,'' Sklover said.
He said he's heard of distraught employees agreeing in writing to forgo applying for unemployment benefits in order to get their last paycheck. The former employee can also use that pending signature to various documents as leverage for being allowed to collect personal property, Sklover said.
And when they do train their attention on a document and find it troubling, they have the right to consult a lawyer.
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