Sometimes I get calls from people on the very day that they have lost their job. They’re confused, they’re upset, they don’t know what to do. And they’re not even my clients yet!
Generally, the first thing you should do is request a copy of your employee file from your former employer. That request should be made in writing and you should keep a copy of your written request and proof that you delivered that request to the employer’s human resources department (or the nearest equivalent to an HR department for employers that don’t have one). You have the right to employment records under ORS 652.750 (in Oregon) and Labor Code § 1198.5 (in California). Do this within 60, and ideally within 30, days of being fired.
After that, pay attention to when you get your final paycheck, and whether that paycheck is correct. Mark on a paper calendar or other permanent paper record the day you lost your job and the day you got your paycheck. Depending on the circumstances of how you lost your job (did you quit? were you fired? how much notice was there?) the legal amount of time the employer has to get your final paycheck to you may vary. You should gather as many records as you can of the time you worked and the amounts you were paid. Keep your pay stubs, keep your time cards!
The next thing you should do is update your resume and any professional profiles you have on social media (often this includes LinkedIn as well as more generalized social media sites). Once that’s done, it’s time to start looking for new work. Yes, immediately. What’s more, you should keep a journal of jobs that you apply for. The journal should show the name of the prospective employer, the job you applied for, the date you sent in an application, and the result of the application. There should be LOTS of entries in the journal.
Whether you have a good legal claim against your former employer or not, you need to start looking for new work as soon as possible. You need money. You need work to do. Your resume will look better with fewer and shorter gaps. And if there is litigation, it benefits you to demonstrate that you reasonably and diligently did what you could to replace the job you just lost.
After this, you need to address what your health care insurance options are, and pick a way to go to minimize the risk of being bare of coverage in the event of a catastrophic injury or illness. This may take the form of pursuing COBRA coverage through your former employer. It may take the form of becoming listed on a spouse or domestic partner’s insurance. It may take the form of seeking private coverage, and perhaps pursuit of coverage through Covered California or the Oregon Health Insurance Marketplace. For some it might mean participation in a public insurance option like the Oregon Health Plan or California Care. Others may qualify for Medicare, Medicaid, or benefits through the Veteran’s Administration. Whatever you decide to do, please do not wait to attend to this issue because health care from your former employer will end soon, and you should not be bare of coverage at all — accidents can happen!
You might be eligible for unemployment benefits, in some cases even if you quit your job or if you haven’t been fired but face a significant drop in hours. Employers sometimes dispute eligibility for unemployment benefits, but your chances of getting unemployment benefits are zero if you don’t apply. Again, this is something you should attend to very quickly after your job ends. Both the Oregon Employment Department and the California Employment Development Department have online applications for benefits available. Get started on this process quickly, and be aware that in many cases you may need to demonstrate that you are diligently search for employment and check in with the department weekly.
But of course you’re curious to find out whether you have a legal claim or not. Getting in touch with legal counsel, like myself, is the best way to determine if your circumstances give rise to a legal claim of some sort. If you suspect you might have a claim, it’s a good idea to prepare for a consultation by preparing a timeline of the events that you think are relevant, and gathering documents (both physical and electronic) that might contain information useful to evaluating your claim. This includes your pay stubs! I don’t encourage you to compare your situation too closely with someone else’s — there can be a lot of facts and circumstances that make one case very different from another, and it can sometimes be something that seems subtle to you, but matters a lot to a lawyer.
Please do not wait to seek legal advice! There are limitations periods and sometimes very short time limits that apply to presenting legal claims. This is particularly true for issues relating to unpaid but earned wages and workplace safety complaints.
You can seek a referral from the Oregon State Bar or through the California State Bar if you wish. If it’s me you’re interested in consulting with, I’m flattered and thank you — and remind you that the best way to get an appointment with me is to fill out my contact form, which you can reach by clicking here.