What to Do When You Are Fired

Image shows a man putting his belongings into a box, showing he was recently terminated from his job. There is a piece of looseleaf paper at the forefront, with text that reads: "Termination Checklist: Ask about compensation, check employee benefit eligibility, ask about references, file for unemployment benefits"

Image by Maritsa Patrinos © The Balance 2019

Steve Jobs. J.K. Rowling. Walt Disney. Oprah. What do all these famous people have in common? They’ve all been fired. If you’re currently staring at your own pink slip—or anticipating one in the near future—you can take a tiny bit of comfort in knowing that you’re in illustrious company. To set yourself up for a second act that’s as impressive as theirs, you need to do a little preparation. That means taking a deep breath, getting yourself together, and looking at your situation.

If you’re like most people, you have a lot of questions for your employer. Are you eligible for unemployment? Can you appeal? What happens if you have been wrongfully discharged? What do you say in your cover letters and job interviews?

Here's what you need to know about your employee rights, your financial options, and your best path forward when you are fired or otherwise terminated from employment.

Termination Checklist: Do This Right Now

When you’ve lost your job, it's important to check—right away—on compensation due, benefits, references, and unemployment. If you have been fired and haven't been informed about benefits, contact the Human Resources department at your former employer or your manager to request information on the status of your benefits. 

Use this checklist to make sure you have covered all the bases.

What to Do in the Days After You’ve Been Fired

The day you get fired, your focus will waver between the immediate (“I just got fired. What do I do now?”) and the very long-term (“Is my career over?”). To keep from getting lost in the details or psyching yourself out, it helps to have a plan.

This step-by-step list tells you what you need to know when you have been fired from your job—and what to focus on today, tomorrow, and so on. 

Things Not to Say (or Do) If You're Fired

We’ve all seen it in movies: the hero gets fired from his job, makes a big scene that either embarrasses his evil boss or sets the hero up for eventual redemption and then stomps out of the office, accompanied by stirring music. That makes for great drama, but if you try to replicate it in real life, you’ll notice that it’s a lot less satisfying without the soundtrack and flattering lights.

Bottom line, there’s a right way to behave after getting fired—and a lot of stuff you shouldn’t say or do, lest you make a bad situation worse. Avoid these common mistakes. 

Does My Employer Have to Provide Notice of Termination?

Short answer: probably not. When an employee is terminated or laid-off, there are no federal regulations requiring employers to give advance notice to the employee unless the employee is covered by an individual contract with their employer, a collective bargaining agreement, or the WARN Act. If you’re like the majority of workers, these probably don’t apply to you—in which case, your employer is free to terminate you on the spot. 

Were You Fired for Cause?

When an employee is terminated for cause, they are fired from their job for a specific reason, for example, being chronically late, stealing, spending too much on social media, or having a bad attitude. It’s important to figure out whether you were fired for cause—as opposed to being laid off—because it may determine whether you’re eligible for unemployment. Here's how to handle being terminated for cause. 

Can You Collect Unemployment?

Don’t assume that being fired means that you’re ineligible for unemployment. Depending on the circumstances, you could still qualify. The exception is if you were fired for misconduct, but you can always apply because your perception of your work history may be different than your employer's. 

What Is Wrongful Termination?

Wrongful termination happens when an employee is discharged from employment for illegal reasons or if company policy is violated when the employee is fired. If you were wrongly terminated, you ​may be able to appeal the decision. Here's how to tell if you were wrongfully terminated—and what you can do about it. 

Employee Rights

Regardless of how you were terminated, it’s important to know your rights. Depending on which state you live in, whether you’re working under a contract, or as an at-will employee, and how the employer typically handles terminations, your rights will vary.

How to Answer the Interview Question, “Why Were You Fired?”

Getting fired isn’t the end of the world, even if it feels like it on the day you receive your termination. Handled correctly, it can be a minor bump in the road of your career. Here’s how to handle the inevitable job interview questions about your termination honestly and positively, so that you can move on to your next adventure. 

Job Termination Questions and Answers

Here are answers to the most frequently asked questions about termination from employment, including reasons for getting fired, employee rights when you have been terminated, collecting unemployment, wrongful termination, saying goodbye to co-workers and more.