Recent termination of employment

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Q: I was recently terminated, without notice, from my company.  I was employed for there for seven years.  I was never given a warning or even a harsh word. I am being told that I should sign this agreement, and they will pay me for 12 weeks.  Should I be looking at suing them?  How does one sue their former employer? 

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A: I am sorry to hear of your sudden termination.  An abrupt termination can be an upsetting and stressful event, especially after seven years of employment.  If you are an “at-will” employee, and most of us are “at-will” employees, an employer can terminate you at any time, for any reason.  You could also resign at any time.  Many employees believe that a two-week notice is required.  Usually a two-week notice is preferred, but not required, it is important for lawyers to know about their right with a good lawyer. An employment lawyer can help explain the client’s rights to him or her. This includes explaining the applicable laws that apply to the case and the options available to the client, which may include litigation, mediation, negotiation or other actions. A lawyer can also explain the pros and cons of each options and provide advice about the best way to proceed with a case.

I consulted Jack K. Merrill, an attorney with KSR Law in Needham, Massachusetts.  Jack’s focus is on employment issues.

Merrill shares “Suing an employer following termination is normally a time-consuming, expensive and ultimately risky endeavor that should not be undertaken lightly. In Massachusetts, employers and employees alike can end a working relationship at any time, for any reason, and with notice or without it. Among the things employers cannot do is either violate the terms of a specific agreement with their workers or illegally discriminate against them. If you are concerned either that your employer did not honor the terms of an agreement it had with you, did not follow provisions in its policy that might provide notice and a chance to avoid the firing, retaliated against you for exercising certain legal rights, or acted due to your race, gender, age or other protected category, you should consult an attorney before you sign the severance agreement. To sue the company, you’ll have to reject the 12 weeks of severance, it appears, and this is something you should do only with the benefit of good advice from qualified employment law counsel.”

Additionally, suing your former employer can be emotionally draining.  Sometimes it is worth considering a reasonable severance offer.  However, I agree with Merrill’s suggestion.  It is best to consult an attorney, who focuses on employment matters.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.