Q: I was working at a small retail shop in our downtown area. I was recently fired. The supervisor said I was not performing my role as a customer service agent. He never gave me areas to improve upon. I feel like this is illegal. What actions can I take?
A: Getting fired is a difficult experience. Unfortunately, supervisors, company representatives and business owners can usually hire and fire whomever and whenever they wish. Unless you have a contract or are a member of union, you were likely an “at-will employee” while employed at the retail store. In Massachusetts, most employees are classified as “at-will employees.” Though the percentage of employees who are union members changes, about 75% of the US workforce in the US is at-will. This means that a company, or its representatives, can terminate an employee for any reason, or for no reason at all. It sounds like your supervisor may have been dissatisfied with how proficient you were in your role. Although it would have been helpful to you to know what part of your work performance was unsatisfactory, your supervisor was not required to provide detailed reasons for your termination nor is he required to provide areas in which you needed to improve.
You can consider taking legal action if you wish. You can explore filing a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) if you think you have been discriminated against. For more information, visit www.mass.gov/mcad. Additionally, you could also hire an attorney to represent your interests and discussion your legal options. If you choose to hire an attorney, you should select an attorney whose areas of expertise include labor and employment, and possibly even wrongful terminations. If you choose to hire an attorney, it is important to ask about the attorney’s experience with similar cases. You should also inquire about their associates, paralegals and other team members. Lastly, make sure that you have a discussion about how the attorney would be compensated. Financial arrangements can vary between attorneys.
It is difficult to determine whether you were fired illegally based on the information you provided. However, if your supervisor was dissatisfied with all or part of your work performance, that is typically viewed as a valid reason for an employee termination. Additionally, you are likely eligible for unemployment compensation in Massachusetts. Many workers in Massachusetts believe their former employer makes the decision with respect to who is eligible for unemployment compensation. The Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) makes the final determination, largely based on what you share with them, as well as your former employer shares. It is a strong employment market in Massachusetts. Our unemployment rate in Massachusetts is around 5.6%, which is fairly low, so candidates typically have a wide range of employment opportunities.
Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.