The bad news is that there’s no guaranteed way to prevent your employer from firing you. However, there are a few things you can do:
Be a great employee.
I know, this one seems obvious. But truly, the best way to protect yourself from wrongful termination is to be a great employee. In nearly all wrongful termination cases, the employer makes up a reason in order to hide the illegal reason for firing the employee.
When that happens, the employee must prove that the claimed reason is false and that the real reason is an illegal one. Frequently, the employer claims that the employee was fired for misconduct or bad performance. Of course, it’s much easier to do this if you always complied with your employer’s rules and policies and had good job performance.
And continuing to be a great employee is especially important if you engage in protected activity, such as complaining about discrimination or requesting leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Some employees let loose after they engage in protected activity because they inaccurately believe that the protected activity insulates them for being fired. It’s true that your employer can’t fire you because of your protected activity. However, your employer can lawfully fire you for misconduct or performance after your protected activity.
Save documents and communications.
Save letters, memos, performance evaluations, emails, text messages, and other types of documents and communications. Print and save the email your supervisor sent about the great work you did on that project. That email could be evidence of your good performance.
If you texted your supervisor to let her know that you’re running late, and she texts you back, “No problem. See you soon!” Take a screen shot, and save it. If your supervisor fires you for failing to notify her of your tardiness, that text message becomes evidence that her reason is false.
Put it in writing.
Depending on your job and the situation, you might not have emails or written documents from your employer. However, you can document things that happen at work. If a supervisor makes a sexist comment in the breakroom, promptly make a note about it. Type up a short memo that includes the date of the incident, the date you wrote the memo, and details about what happened. A lawsuit takes a long time, and it’s hard to remember details.
Having a written record is also important in retaliation cases, where you must prove that you actually engaged in protected activity and when your employer learned about it. This is easy to prove if you complained in writing. However, proving the date of a verbal complaint is a different story. It shouldn’t surprise you that employers frequently deny knowing about an employee’s protected activity when there’s no written evidence. Employees often avoid filing a written complaint because they’re afraid of retaliation; they think making a verbal complaint is less serious or less likely to upset their supervisors. However, complaining in writing may be the only way to establish whether and when you engaged in protected activity.
Were you wrongfully terminated?
Alan Lescht and Associates handles wrongful termination cases involving discrimination, reprisal, whistleblower retaliation, and public policy. We represent federal government employees before administrative agencies like the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), and the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights (formerly the Office of Compliance), as well as in federal court. Our attorneys also litigate wrongful termination claims on behalf of private-sector and state and local government workers in DC, Maryland, and northern Virginia.