I was fired and they say it was "for cause." Can I still get a severance?

No one likes to be fired, least of for a mistake or misunderstanding or a minor infraction.  But it happens all the time:  for whatever reason a boss doesn't want to work with an employee anymore and finds a reason to fire him or her. 

And that is all it means to be fired "for cause": it means your boss named a specific reason why you were being fired.  While being fired "for cause" may impact your ability to collect unemployment benefits, it does not necessarily impact your ability to negotiate a severance.

First of all, to put it simply, your boss may have lied.  Your boss may have said you were being fired for losing a small client, or for submitting the wrong paperwork, or for dinging the company truck.  But maybe your boss also wanted to fire you because he knew you were pregnant, or because he knew you would soon earn a bonus he did not want to pay, or because he knew you had complained about improprieties at the company. 

In such a case, your boss's stated reason for firing you is what lawyers call a "pretext."   In fact, you may have a claim against your employer for firing you in violation of law.  The bad news is that it is pretty common for people to be fired in violation of the law.  The good news is that illegal firings are one of the most common reasons why severances are paid.  In exchange for the employee giving up the right to sue their employer for the employer's illegal action, the employer pays the employee a severance. 

But even if your boss did not have some hidden and improper motive for firing you "for cause," that does not mean you cannot negotiate a severance, a payment of several weeks or months of salary on your way out.  Because if you have something of value that your company wants, they should have to pay you for it.  As we have discussed in previous posts, some common reasons our clients are able to negotiate severances are that they had:

  • ·         A claim to unpaid wages. 
  • ·         Good relationships with clients or customers. 
  • ·         Know-how, trade secrets and intellectual property
  • ·         Stock or shares or equity in the company. 
  • ·         Other legal claims against the company. 

Even if you have been fired for cause, if your company is asking you to sign any kind of separation agreement, or if you feel you have something of value that the company is asking you to walk away from, you may still have leverage to negotiate a severance.  Granovsky & Sundaresh is here to help.  Call or e-mail us any time.