PART I: Cooler Heads Prevail: What To Do When You’ve Been Terminated by Your Employer

/ February 10, 2014

Woman holding her head - iStockIt’s been a long afternoon and an even longer week. You’re sitting at your desk on Friday afternoon trying to get those last few things on your To-Do list crossed off before 5pm so you can go into the weekend without having anything hanging over your head. The sun is shining outside. You might even be able to hear the birds chirping. The weekend holds infinite promise.  Just as you’re about to close up the laptop and head home, your boss stops by and wants to “talk.” All of sudden you’re in the boss’ office and you’re hearing about how things don’t fit right, there’s been cutbacks, moves have to be made. Whatever cliché the boss uses, it’s not easy to keep a clear head during this discussion, because guess what? You’re out of a job.

Hopefully you’ll never find yourself in this position, but if you do, there are a number of rights your boss won’t mention when they’re asking you to clean out your desk.

Reason for Termination

Often, employees aren’t given a reason for their termination and are left to wonder about what just happened and why they were fired. You don’t have to wonder. Under Minnesota law, a terminated employee is entitled to a reason for his/her termination. Minnesota Statute §181.933 requires an employer to give a truthful reason why an employee was terminated. All the employee is required to do to get an explanation is make a request, in writing, within fifteen days of his/her termination. The employer then has ten working days from receipt of the request to give a truthful reason in writing for the termination. The employer will be subject to a civil penalty if it does not comply with the statute.

Even if the employee already knows the reason, I always advise a terminated employee to get that reason in writing from the employer, as this information will be useful in determining whether the employee is entitled to unemployment benefits or whether the employee might have a claim against the company for discrimination or wrongful termination.

Your Personnel File

You are also entitled to a copy of your personnel file from your former employer. Minnesota Statute §181.961 provides that the employer has seven days to provide an employer’s personnel file if it is located within the state and fourteen days to provide the personnel file if it is located outside the state. Minnesota Statute §181.9641 states that if the employer does not comply fully with this request, a fine of $5,000 will be assessed by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry and the employer will be responsible for the employee’s attorney’s fees.

Similar to getting the reason for your termination, getting your personnel file will also ensure that you know of any infractions – if there are any – your employer might use against you if you make a claim for unemployment benefits or wrongful termination. It’s a simple idea. The more information you have up front, the easier it will be for you or your attorney to assess what claims you might have against your former employer.

Final Wages

You are also owed all of your wages up until the date of your termination. If you were terminated, then Minnesota Statute §181.13 requires that your employer pay you your final wages within 24 hours of your termination. If your employer doesn’t pay you within those 24 hours, the employer will be in default and will be liable to the employee for his/her regular rate of pay for up to fifteen days.

If you have been terminated and your employer still owes you wages, there are three ways you can attempt to get those wages. The first, and easiest way, is to write a letter to your employer requesting your final wages. Another option is filing a wage claim with the Labor Standards unit at the Minnesota Department of Labor & Industry. And then finally, you are also permitted to bring a direct claim against your former employer for those wages. Note that if the wages you are owed are less than $10,000, you would need to file your complaint in small claims court. If the wages are more than $10,000, you would file in state district court.

Losing your job, especially unexpectedly, is never easy.  But you deserve to know why you were terminated and what records your employer has about you. You also deserve to collect all of the wages you’ve earned. It’s a tough thing to go through, but sulking doesn’t do you any good.  Be assertive with your former employer. Just because you don’t work there anymore, doesn’t mean you lose your rights.

In the next installment, we’ll discuss what steps you need to take to collect unemployment benefits.