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Were you fired or wrongfully terminated? What’s the difference?

Absent a clear violation of your contract, what’s the difference between being unfairly fired and a wrongful termination?

Neither are pleasant experiences, to be certain. Being unfairly let go from your position can happen for a number of reasons — whether the boss just doesn’t like you or there were unrealistic expectations about your performance from the start. You can’t do much about it when you’re treated unfairly — unless you’re treated illegally. That’s what turns a firing into a wrongful termination.

Here are some of the most common examples of a wrongful termination:

You got too old

Age discrimination is real, especially in tech-heavy industries where companies strive to maintain a “youthful” appearance. If you heard a few hints that you might want to retire or were told that you were “too old” to understand the company’s vision, you should be suspicious that you were wrongfully terminated.

You were the wrong race, religion or something else

You’d think that employers would realize that they can’t get away with firing people based on their race, religion, gender or other protected status (including, in California, their LGBTQ status) — but it still happens. If discrimination was a factor in your firing, it was probably unlawful.

You came from another country

Immigrants are struggling with a political atmosphere that makes it a challenge to find — and keep — employment. If you were fired because of your country of origin or citizenship status, that’s illegal.

You complained about something

Did you complain about a safety violation on the job? Did you speak up about sexual harassment you either experienced or witnessed? Did you try to discuss your wages or working conditions with other employees to see if you could get some improvements? If your employer retaliated and fired you, that’s absolutely illegal.

When you’ve just been fired, it’s totally normal for your heart to sink and your head to spin. Most people are consumed with emotions like embarrassment, anger and fear. Practical concerns, like rent, car payments and groceries take over. However, make sure that you give some thought to what happened. If you believe that you were wrongfully terminated, an experienced attorney can help you better understand your options.