Millions of people get fired every year. The vast majority of these terminations are initiated in an in-person meeting or conversation. But every now and then, an employer doesn't have the courage to fire an employee in person, so they'll do it over the phone. Then there are employers who will take things a step further and fire employees via email.
If you've been fired via email, you have a right to be angry. The question is, what (if anything) can be done about it?
Fired Via Email: Is it Legal?
The first question people want to know is, can you legally be fired via email?
The short answer is yes ... probably.
In most situations, employers are not restricted in the way they terminate employees. The issue arises only when there's a contract for employment that states otherwise.
While genuinely assumed to be rude and inconsiderate, an employer can fire you over email, SMS, or even in a letter. As long as the reason for the firing is kosher, how your employer fires you is up to them.
What to Do if You're Fired Over Email
Now that we understand the legality of being fired over email, let's explore the practical side of things. In other words, what do you do now?
Here are a few suggestions:
1. Read Through the Company Policy
The first thing you'll want to do is read through the company handbook or termination policy. Most larger companies or established employers will have some sort of process for terminating employees. (You can get it from HR or management if you don't already have access.)
Once you have this document, look for specific language that specifies how you may be terminated, what happens, and other details. If firing via email is explicitly forbidden (or another method is required), you might have a case for wrongful termination.
2. Consider Why You Were Fired
It's also helpful to consider why you were fired. The why often drives the how. If you were fired via email, you should consider what it was that prompted the employer to make such an impersonal decision.
Though not always true, an email termination could be preceded by some form of discrimination or retaliation that the employer was uncomfortable addressing in person. At the very least, this is something you should consider.
3. Ask for Clarification
You deserve to know why you were fired. If the email wasn't clear, or you suspect there are ulterior motives, you should request clarifying details. You can do this over email if you'd like (as it gives you a paper trail.) You're also completely within your rights to pick up the phone or pay your employer a visit.
In many cases, an employer who doesn't have the legal rights to terminate an employee will back themselves into a hole by saying something they shouldn't. This can help you build a case against them.
4. Consider Hiring an Attorney
If you believe you've been wrongfully terminated via email, you should consult with a wrongful termination attorney to get clear on your rights and next steps. There are very specific actions you'll need to take in order to protect your rights and retain the right to file a lawsuit against your employer. If nothing else, the attorney can let you know that you don't have grounds for suing.
5. Don't Compound the Issue
Be careful not to make the issue worse by sending back a scathing email or saying something that you might later regret. Take a few moments (or hours) to process the email before doing anything. (And if you believe there's a form of discrimination or retaliation at play, speak with an attorney before hitting reply.) Anything you say from this point on will help or hurt your cause. You want to make sure it's the former and not the latter.
Adding It All Up
It never feels good to be terminated from your job. Whether you loved the job or detested it, there's something frustrating about knowing that your employer wants to part ways with you. And if you've been fired via an impersonal medium like email, it stings a bit more. But at the end of the day, you have to pick yourself up, dust off your shoulders, and continue moving forward. Whether that involves legal action or not depends on the circumstances. Either way, there's nowhere to go but forward.
Larry Alton is a professional blogger, writer, and researcher. A graduate of Iowa State University, he's now a full-time freelance writer and business consultant. Currently, Larry writes for Entrepreneur.com, Inc.com, and Forbes.com, among others. In addition to journalism, technical writing and in-depth research, he's also active in his community and spends weekends volunteering with a local non-profit literacy organization and rock climbing. Follow him on Twitter (@LarryAlton3), at LinkedIn.com/in/larryalton, and on his website, LarryAlton.com. Read Larry Alton's Reports — More Here.
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