Simply because an outcome has been reached doesn't mean that it's over. When the dust from legal battles, appeals, and other means of contesting settles, there are still going to be some things that everyone will need to deal with. This includes aspects of reputation, compliance with legal outcomes, and generally moving on from the situation and returning to some sense of normality. Even if you are satisfied with the outcome, you may find that you have questions or additional effects that you need to face. The aftermath of a resolution to a wrongful termination claim, in many cases, is just as eventful as everything that lead up to it.
This article will look at what employees may need to deal with after a wrongful termination case comes to a close. The information listed here is applicable regardless of if their appeal was in their favor or their employers, although a few pieces of information may lean towards a certain outcome. Topics include moving on, finding work after a termination, and what you should not do during the aftermath of the case.
Coming To Terms With The Outcome Of Legal Action
Part of the aftermath is dealing with the outcome of your civil suit or arbitration hearing. If the case came out in your favor, then it's likely that you are very pleased with the results or at least not as upset as you'd be if you had lost. Winning the case usually means that the outcome is at least partially what you wanted, so you only have to come to terms with the situation in regards to only achieving part of your goal. For example, you may have been cleared of any accused wrongdoing that the termination was based upon and any back pay/benefits you were owed, but there wasn't any additional compensation like a settlement.
If the case did not come out in your favor, then there are a few things you may have to deal with. You most likely will not have to deal with any legal fees; lawyers for civil cases often will take your case on a contingency fee, meaning you don't pay anything beyond maybe a hiring fee should they lose your case.1 You may need to pay some of the other party's fees, basically smaller costs like witness fees that the judge may order you to pay via a judgement. Legally, you have to pay whatever judgement is levied against you after a suit's conclusion or face things like creditors or additional legal action. Attorney fees for the other party will only be included in the judgement if it's allowed under state law and the judge approves of it.2
• To Appeal or Not To Appeal?-Losing your civil case provides you with the option to appeal the ruling, if circumstances allow. Choosing to appeal just means that you will be extending your interactions and time with the legal system, so consider all the factors involved before filing. Keep in mind that you cannot file an appeal if your case was handled via arbitration, nor can you file a separate lawsuit against the employer because of the agreement.
Tasks To Complete As You Move On
Most people wait to move on until all the lawsuits, appeals, etc. are done, simply because it's easier to do so then. You can actually begin the process of moving on after a termination at any point after being fired, even if you are taking remedial actions. Moving on helps you come to an understanding about what happened and why, and helps people find closure regarding the situation. Continuing to think and fret and rage about your termination isn't healthy, nor is it going to do you any good.
There are several tasks that should be done as you move on in addition to whatever catharsis you choose for yourself. Some are tied to responsibilities you may have as a result of events, and some are merely to assist you in finding closure.
• Pay Your Legal Fees-Regardless if you win or lose, you need to pay any and all legal fees that you wrack up contesting your termination. This includes any fees your lawyer has and any judgements ruled by the court. If you got a settlement, then you can use some of that money for any fees you incurred. Failure to pay your fees as ordered can lead to further problems and that's not what you want to happen.
• Take Care Of Yourself-It's normal to still have some anger and grief over your termination after a conclusion has been reached in your case. You may have held back on dealing with your emotions in favor of directing your full attention to the situation at hand, but you need to address those feelings now that things are over. It's okay to sulk, vent your frustration, or just take the time to deal with things and destress; it will help you understand and come to terms with the situation.3
• Talk To Someone (If You Can)-Unless part of the rule in your case states that neither party may discuss the details of the situation with anyone, talking to someone about what happened can help you move on. This could be a professional counselor, or just a good friend or close relative who's willing to let you vent to them without judgement. Some of those feelings mentioned above may be easier to process once you verbalize them and get them off your chest. The person you talk to could also provide you with feedback that you can use to better understand things and provide you with direction of what to do next.
• Plan For The Future-Lawful or unlawful termination doesn't mean that your career or your life is over. Often, the end of an unlawful termination case is the chance to reflect and make changes. Treat this as an opportunity to go in a new direction and expand your horizons-learn new skills and enhance your old ones, look for opportunities in places you haven't before, and just see what you can do.4 Wisely use any kind of settlement that you got and save as much as you can instead of spending it as fast as possible. Use it to take care of any outstanding debts or expenses so you can start things off with a clean slate. Turn it into a nest egg for retirement and/or emergencies. If you plan carefully, the future could be full of endless possibilities.
What You Should NOT Do
There will be a lot of things that you want to do in the aftermath, and not all of them will be a good idea. As tempting as they may seem, some things can do you more harm than good and make the situation worse.
• Gloat or Retaliate-It's okay to feel amazing when you win a wrongful termination suit, but you shouldn't use the opportunity to gloat and rub it in your former employer's face. Yes, justice has been served. Yes, this may have stopped them from doing the same thing to someone else. But gloating has no purpose or value other than to fill some selfish or childish need. The same can be said regarding retaliation if you've lost your case-there are some significant consequences that can arise if you take that path that will only make things harder for you in the long run.
• Disregard Court Orders-You may not agree with what the court ruled, but you still need to comply with it. Failing to pay a court ordered judgement, for example, can lead to further legal repercussions. If you're not supposed to talk about the case to anyone, don't talk about the case. If you're not supposed to talk to or otherwise interact with your former employer, don't interact with them. Violating any court orders because you disagree with them or don't think they're right will cause you to be seen in contempt of court and face more problems from it.
• Punish Yourself-As mentioned, it's okay to feel bad about what happened or to be upset. However, you should not try to punish or otherwise take out your emotions on yourself because you blame yourself in some way for what happened.5 It accomplishes nothing and prevents you from moving on; don't let it define who you are professionally or personally.
Finding Work After Termination
Many people wait until all of their legal battles and drama from their wrongful termination case are done before seeking a new job. Sometimes, this just makes things easier and allows you to focus your attention on one thing at a time. However, many people struggle with finding work after a termination due to what has happened. They may be still processing the situation, or they may find it difficult to explain what happened to perspective employers-who may find out regardless of what you tell them. Most of it is all in how you handle things.
If you've been in your previous job for several years, then it's likely that you're going to be a little rusty when it comes to navigating job market. The basics of a job search are going to remain largely the same year after year, but there are going to be some changes that catch you off guard. New skillsets, for example, that have become standard for your field or industry, or the skills you do have that are relevant for your field may not be as up to par as they were the last time you went job hunting. Take some time to polish things up and learn a bit in order to give yourself a boost.6 Renew any qualifications or licensing that you need beforehand so you're ready for whatever comes your way.
The first action you should take when you being your search is to review and update your resume and CV/cover letter. Of course you'll have to mark that your previous job has ended, but you do not have to disclose on either document the reason why you left.7 You will, however, need to disclose it to potential employers should they ask, but you do not have to go into a lengthy explanation of what happened; most are satisfied with acknowledgement of the termination, a brief answer regarding the official reason (if you know it), and/or a promise that it won't happen again.8 If a potential employer asks about it, it will likely be as a part of your application (e.g. "reason for leaving") or during an interview. Lying or trying to hide your termination isn't going to help you, as it's likely the employer will find out what happened through things like background checks. To make things a bit easier on yourself, you may want to decide upon what you will say when/if asked and practice it.9 It's unlikely that they'll expect the gory details, but you may want to at least have your story straight just in case so you can avoid wasting time or panicking on the spot.
• What Can A Previous Employer Say?-Legally, there is only so much that a previous employer can say when a potential employer contacts them. They can acknowledge that you were their employee, some of your job duties, salary information, and previous disciplinary actions that were taken against you.10 They often limit what they do say to avoid offering any information that isn't pure fact; in some cases, the task will fall to someone from Human Resources because they are a neutral party and will only discuss the facts. The outcome of a wrongful termination claim, however, may limit certain details due to circumstances (e.g. court orders, non-disclosure agreements, etc.), so some things related to that may be withheld.
• Should You Disclose That It Was A Wrongful Termination?-Yes and no. If a potential employer asks for more information about your termination and its circumstances, AND if you legally can discuss the case (e.g. court order), then that information may be disclosed. However, if you did not formally file a complaint or take action and only suspect that it was unlawful, you should not disclose that. Tell an employer that you were previously fired for unlawful reasons and they will expect confirmation and proof.