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I know my firing was unfair, but was it unlawful?

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Question: "I was terminated just before the end of my probationary period. I have my personnel file and there are a number of untruths in it. I had one self-evaluation which was signed and submitted prior to my taking sick leave for a heart catheterization. I received an unsatisfactory evaluation after my return to work. (My position was filled by someone who had formerly been in the office but left and was unhappy in her new position.) Was this an unlawful termination? I am more interested in suing the individuals involved, unless I can possibly get my old position back by suing the organization (or another position at the same location). I appreciate any advice." — J.F.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathy February 16, 2012 at 4:33 pm

I agree with most of the responses to your situation. It’s not worth the effort if you were let go before the end of your “probationary” period (we use the term “introductory” period). As far as having your file, hopefully you requested a copy of it from the HR department; here in Illinois you’re entitled to request a copy of your personnel file, but the company has the right to charge per page for copying it – hopefully that’s how you got it. My advice, move on, chalk this up to experience, and I believe everything happens for a reason – something better might come your way.

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the view is nicer from the high road February 14, 2012 at 11:04 pm

JF, I agree w/ JoAnn, take the high road and walk away. If you like the organization, that kind of positive attitude will come through in an interview to apply to other depts…I think you should manage your stress by trying not to think about the people who lied … (suing them would only prolong the agony and negative feelings and magnify what they did). We’ve all worked w/ people who aren’t our biggest fans. I’d focus on the people who you liked there … and if someone signed off on your positive self-evaluation (before you got sick) that’s the one I would read and re-read right before I applied for similar jobs. No doubt you learned things that will help you in your next job interviews but I’d try not to speak ill of former coworkers/supervisors. …do the usual stuff to keep your spirits up, take a class to gain some new skills, take care of yourself etc. Good luck.

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jf February 13, 2012 at 11:54 am

To all commenters:

I have been of the same mind as most of you, but have still been curious if there were any options out there I was not aware of. I have never wanted to sue the company, My thoughts were of sueing individuals who posted false information in my file. I have little interest in obtaining financial gain but would more like to send a message that they need to clean up there activities. I received my entire file from the company voluntarily at my request after my dismissal so there is no illegal action involved here on my part. The organization is large enough that obtaining a different position would not necessarily put me in situation where I was would be un happy or not wanted. Thanks to all of you for your comments

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Glenda February 10, 2012 at 4:23 pm

I am confused as to what you would hope to gain from suing them. You were within your probationary period so if you work in an At-Will State it is just that, a probationary period. And depending on how long the probationary period was at that company (ours is 6 months) that is still not enough time to fall madly in love with a job that you would be willing to go back to work there after all of this. And, that personnel file issue could do more harm to you than you could to the company. I personally do not see this as a winning situation for you. You need to consider how much ruckus you raise because this could all have a very detrimental affect on your future job searching.

And as a side note – Elijah, I am very concerned about your comments about the employer always being right and that employees have no rights in SC. That is a very generalized comment that I disagree with. There are labor laws that protect all employees from unfair labor practices.

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Debbie February 10, 2012 at 7:27 am

Since it was during your probationary period, at least with my employer, they can terminate you for basically any reason at all. It is in the paperwork we sign upon hiring. Better check what you signed when you agreed to come and work for them. Sorry to hear things have been so difficult for you.

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JoAnn Paules February 10, 2012 at 6:40 am

You need legal advice, not peer advice. The others have said what I would have said regarding probationary period and pick your battles. I’m questioning why you would consider suing them to get your job back, even if at a different site.

Since you’ve had a heart catherization performed, my advice is to take care of yourself first and foremost. Nothing is going to matter if you don’t do that.

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anonymous February 10, 2012 at 12:03 am

I’m sorry this happened to you, it’s a tough time to be looking for work. Try to stay positive and don’t let the stress get to you or your heart.

(As my mom used to say, “No one ever said ‘Life would be fair’” right before my dad would say, “Keep a stiff upper lip.” and/or “This just may be a blessing in disguise.”)

Cliches aside, I wouldn’t sue, companies create probation to avoid lawsuits and you’d probably lose …plus, suing requires a lot of (negative) energy that I’d rather spend trying to find a new job and taking care of myself (eating right/exercise/stress mgt) and focus on future.

Specifically, focus on all you learned while there…think of it like an internship … did you learn things that might serve as good training for another dept? (computer system, etc?) seems like that would give you an advantage over outsiders applying at your same organization? I think your chances for reemployment are better if you stand up for yourself and explain their “differing perspectives” i.e., “untruths”… …because your story that they seemed to want to rehire the former, more experienced worker rings true to me as a legitimate reason they’d let you go…you had a learning curve that she’s already mastered.

Were you denied unemployment compensation? Is that what you want to “sue” for? … if you haven’t applied you should. I think it varies by state, which you can research online, and you have to have worked there for a certain length of time…but it’s not like you voluntarily quit your job, so it sounds like you might be eligible. Good luck.

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JoAnn Paules February 9, 2012 at 10:34 pm

I agree with RJ – pick and choose your battles wisely. The point of a probation period is to see if you’re a good fit and if not, the understanding between both employer and employee is that the employer can let the employee go at any point during that probationary period. I am also puzzled how you obtained a copy of your personnel file. If you illegally copied it the organization has grounds to sue you, and if it was a government job you may want to get a match out and burn it because you just stole government property and you don’t want to go there. You won’t win.

What really puzzles me is why you would want your old job back. Why would you want to work where you are apparently not wanted and where they allegedly document untruths about you? I think you would be far better off letting this one go. Life is unfair, always has been, always will be – take the high ground and walk away from this one.

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Mark February 9, 2012 at 6:17 pm

I don’t see how anything is illegal there. Maybe I am missing something, but in this summary, I don’t see where any laws were broken.

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Marty February 9, 2012 at 6:00 pm

I question how you have a copy of your personnel file? In our state, you can review the contents, but you’re not allowed to remove or copy anything. Tread lightly. Your were still on probation when this took place.

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Dawn February 9, 2012 at 5:04 pm

If you were in your probationary period when you were fired there is usually very little that can be done. If the probationary period was for an excessive amount of time then an attorney should be contacted, but if it was 3 months or less the business can usually dismiss you without providing any further information than “you did not fit.”

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RJ February 9, 2012 at 4:38 pm

JF, pick & choose your battles. Everything happens for a reason. Do I think it was wrong how you were treated? Absolutely. Read up on on “At-will” employent and see if you fall into any of the categories. If you’re going to sue a company you definitely need to have some strong evidence regarding your issues, otherwise, you can find yourself seeking employment for longer than you expected. Hope this helps & good luck.
http://www.ncsl.org/issues-research/employment-working-families/at-will-employment-overview.aspx

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Elijah February 9, 2012 at 4:34 pm

IT realli depend on your State laws. If you where here in SC, the employer is always right. Employees here have no rights when it comes to employment. You should speak with an attorney http://www.MrPresidentCFO.com – Hope this helps

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