Three Common Mistakes After You Are Terminated

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So, you get called into a mid-Friday meeting with your supervisor.  You are not sure what the meeting is about but quickly review your latest projects and brush up on any questions that might arise.  You walk into the meeting and there is your supervisor … with an HR employee riding shotgun.

That is the way most terminations go.  There are exceptions.  Sometimes you have advanced warning of layoffs or restructuring.  Other times an employer might not even have a meeting – preferring instead the warmth of an email or call.

Whichever way it goes – much of the fallout for you will be the same.  Shock, anger, disappointment, worry, even relief (if there has been a prolonged period of uncertainty).  Some or all those feelings might make an appearance while you confront a huge question – ‘what now?’

It is at this precise point – where uncertainty and worry meet anger and disappointment – when employees (um … former employees) risk making crucial mistakes that could cost them a little or a lot.

Here are three common mistakes and what you need to do differently: 

  1. Mistake – misunderstanding your termination meeting.

Your company does not need to meet with you to terminate you.  There are not any ‘termination meeting’ rules and the failure to have a meeting or exit interview will not save your job.  You, though, are not going to make the mistake of thinking this is the fourth down of employment and your opportunity to run a last job-saving play.  You are not going to waste your breath by making pleas or concessions to your employer – you are going to realize that the meeting, if held, is about one thing – getting your signature on a release of claims against the employer and getting you to agree to other restrictions (perhaps a confidentiality agreement or non-solicitation clause with a side of non-compete).

Understanding the purpose of the termination meeting will serve you well.  If you believe that what is going on in the meeting is you having the opportunity to plead your case and you are treating the valuable commodity – your signature – as an afterthought, you are passing on significant leverage.

Your move – understand the purpose of the meeting and treat everything your former employer or human resources says as an effort to get you to sign an agreement.


  1. Mistake – providing a heads up to your employer of potential claims.

Once you understand the real purpose of the termination meeting, you are a little bit less likely to make some other common mistakes, but you are not immune.  Worrying about the future will cause you to disregard what you know.  You might think there is still an opportunity to save your job if you simply let the employer know that you might cause trouble.

How would you cause trouble?  Maybe you know about the things your supervisor said or did to you or someone else. Maybe you know about illegal activity. Perhaps you know some fairly important people who will be very displeased at the way the employer is treating you. These all fall into the ‘I bet you didn’t think about …’ camp.  Usually, your employer has thought about those things as best they can and is firing you regardless.  Good attorneys can usually make them think about those things in different ways.

All those things could be true, but the termination meeting or discussions immediately before or after between you and your employer are not the place to play that hand of cards.  You might have significant leverage that would cause the employer to make an enticing severance offer.  But that is not going to happen because you spill all your information when the employer is simply focused on getting you out of the building.  Whether or not that information is valuable will depend on how it is framed for the employer.  Perhaps that is framing that you can do on your own or perhaps it is framing that you have hired an attorney to do for you, but you don’t want to misplay your hand and have it simply construed as the action of an employee desperate to keep their job..

Your move – making a detailed list of potential wrongdoing by the employer (including dates, corroborating evidence, and potential witnesses) for future negotiations but not feeling the need to share all you know with the employer until the proper time.


  1. Mistake – being pressured into making a decision without full consideration.

Time is of the essence for your former employer.  They want the certainty of your signature on a release of claims and security of additional restrictive covenants and are likely willing to pay for those things by way of offering severance.  Employers are notorious for placing arbitrary deadlines on your acceptance of their offer of severance.  You, however, will not be pressured into signing any document without an opportunity to read and review it.  You will tell your employer that you need someone to explain the legal terms to you and ask for time for your attorney to review the document.  If you are over 40 years old, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) requires that your employer provide you at least 21 days to review any severance agreement that contains a release of age discrimination claims – and another 7 days to change your mind after you sign any such release.

Your move – breathe and take appropriate time to carefully review any document wherein you are giving up rights in return for pay.

Losing your job is one of the more stressful experiences many will experience in their lives.  Often, having legal representation review and negotiate severance agreements and ensure you are aware of potential claims against your employer before you release them can alleviate a portion of that stress.  While there is usually nothing anyone can do to make the process easier – often representation can make the process easier.

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