There’s no real way to sugarcoat these facts: If you receive a notice telling you that your employment has been terminated, you lost your job. Most termination notices provide an explanation of the termination as well as information regarding any disciplinary actions you received prior to termination.
While there can be many valid reasons for termination, you as a former employee retain several rights that govern the termination process and opportunities after losing your job.
At-Will Employment and Termination
All states except Montana apply the concept of employment at-will to employer/worker relations, which allows employers to terminate employment without reason or prior notice.
If an employment contract or employee manual outlines disciplinary procedures and corporate policies, those policies must be enforced prior to termination. For example, if your employee handbook specifies that you must receive a written warning in regard to performance or disciplinary action prior to termination, your employer is bound by the implied contract in the handbook.
State laws vary in regard to when your employer must provide you with your final paycheck when your employment is terminated; some states require employers to provide immediate payment to a worker when they terminate his employment.
Federal labor laws don’t require that employers provide a final paycheck during the termination process, though you must receive payment on the same schedule and in the same manner – picked up at work or mailed to you – as you previously received pay unless you authorize a different method.
Continuing Health Benefits
If your employer provides health insurance and employs 20 or more workers, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, or COBRA, entitles you to maintain membership in the company’s group policy for up to 18 months after you lose your job.
You must file a COBRA notification to the plan’s administrator, and your former employer may require you to pay up to 102 percent of the plan’s cost – the additional 2 percent covers employers’ administrative costs – from your own pocket.
If you weren’t terminated for cause, such as skipping work or not performing your duties, you may qualify for unemployment benefits from your state. Contact your state unemployment insurance agency to make an initial claim. Your former employer must certify that you lost your job through no fault of your own, such as a business' closing or shift in employment to another region, before your claim is approved.
If your claim is denied, you have the opportunity to appeal the decision with the state agency. Most states’ unemployment benefits provide 26 weeks of benefits that are roughly half of your regular weekly earnings.
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