Losing your job can be traumatic. All of a sudden, you don't know how you're going to make your house payments or pay your rent. Will you have to move? What will happen to you and your family if you can't meet your bills?
In an emotional, scary moment, it can be difficult to know how to react. The tendency is to react emotionally, defensively, and in ways that ultimately don't help.
If you are going to fired, and you think that the firing is illegal, there are questions you can ask that may help you later. I know that it's difficult to think clearly and act logically in such a situation. Experience teaches us that the best way to perform when the moment comes is to think about it before it happens. Run through the whole conversation in your head, along with various things that could be said, and how you'd react to them. That way, the words will come when you need them.
I. Get Information
If you are being fired illegally, there are things that an attorney will want to know to help your case. If you can find these things out before a law suit is filed, you run a better chance of getting the real answers, instead of answers that their own attorney helped them prepare.
Here are the things I most want to know when a potential client comes to me. Ask them these things as you're being fired, and see what information you can get.
A. Who made the decision?
We want a name here. Companies sometimes respond that "It was a company decision." That's not good enough. You need a name. You're being fired; you have nothing to lose by being assertive and politely repeating your question: Who made the decision to fire me?
If the response is, "It was a collective decision," get the names. At the very least, see if they'll tell you if the person you suspect is bigoted or retaliatory was involved in the decision.
B. When was the decision made?
If you believe that you were fired for engaging in a protected act, such as reporting racial discrimination or illegal kickbacks, then the timing of the decision to fire you is critical to any potential lawsuit. Ask whoever is communicating the decision when it was actually made.
C. Why am I being fired?
This is, of course, critical information. Don't let them get away with "It's just not a match," or "We're having a reduction of force." Neither of those things explain why *you in particular* are being fired. "What makes it not a match?," and "Why was I specifically laid off?" and "What criteria were used to determine who would be laid off?" are good questions to ask. Don't let them get away with vague answers that don't mean anything.
Even if they deny later what they said to you, your testimony may be good enough to keep the judge from throwing your case out entirely.
As I've indicated, be assertive and don't accept vague, meaningless responses. See if you can get them to say something that isn't subject to any interpretation at all. At some point, if they're just not talking, you can't make them, but it's worth a significant effort.
II. Don't Give Information
You're being fired. This is not the time to tell them everything that's wrong with the company, and all the negative feelings you've been harboring. Since the decision has already been made, it doesn't help that you are now complaining for the first time about the illegal acts that your employer took in the past. The point of this discussion needs to be for you to get information, not give it.
III. Don't Sign Anything
You may be pressured into signing documents the very day that you're being fired. Don't do it. There is no need to sign anything the day you're being fired, and I mean anything. In California, you can't be required to sign anything in order to get your wages. If you're worried about a severance agreement, it probably won't go away if you want to take some time to review it or show it to a lawyer. Tell them you need some time to look it over before you sign it. If they tell you it's only good for the day, it's up to you, but consider turning it down; there's probably something in there that they don't want you to read thoroughly, and there's probably a good reason for it.
No one takes a job expecting that they're going to fired from it one day. If you prepare for that eventuality, however, it may help you react in a beneficial way if and when it does occur.