Lost Your Job?

Authored By: Legal Services Alabama LSC Funded


Can I get my job back? Can I get unemployment compensation (pennies)? Can I get back wages? Can I get severance pay or vacation pay? These questions and more are answered in this document.

Here are answers to some questions you may have after you lose a job.

Can I get my job back?

  • Unless you had a written employment contract, you usually can't get your job back.
  • Check your employee handbook to see if you have any right to your job. Some handbooks say you can only be fired for a good reason. Some have steps you can take to try and get back your job.
  • An employer can lay you off or fire you for almost any reason. An employer can't act on the basis of your race, color, religion, creed, handicap, gender or national origin. An employer also can't treat you worse for being older than 40 or for being pregnant.
  • An employer can also fire you for no reason at all. Most times, you have no legal right to get your job back.

Can I get unemployment compensation (pennies)?

Probably, if you lost your job despite doing nothing wrong. See Unemployment Compensation Benefits for more information.

Can I get back wages?

  • Yes, but not right away.
  • Your employer has to pay what you have earned. However, your employer does not have to pay you before your regular pay period.
  • If your employer does not give you your last pay check, you can call the Wage and Hour Division of the U. S. Department of Labor.
  • If your former employer owes you less than $3,000, send it a letter asking for the money. Keep a copy.
  • If your employer still refuses to pay you, you may sue your former employer in Small Claims Court. Small Claims Court is set up for people to appear without a lawyer. You can get the forms for filing a small claims complaint at the Court Clerk's office.

Can I get severance pay or vacation pay?

  • If you think that your employer owes you severance pay or vacation pay, you should ask a lawyer for advice.
  • The lawyer will need to see your employee handbook.
  • Most employers do not have to pay you for unused vacation, especially if you were fired.
  • Unless you have a contract of employment or an employee handbook saying otherwise, the general rule on vacation is that you must "use it or lose it".
  • If your handbook gives you a right to the pay, you may want to sue in Small Claims Court.

What if my employer discriminated against me?

  • It depends on the type of discrimination.
  • If your employer treated you differently from other employees because of your race, religion, gender, handicap or age or because you were pregnant, you may be able to get your job back.
  • If your employer treated you differently for any other reason, you have no claim.
  • Before you can sue for discrimination, you must file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The Alabama office of the EEOC is located at

    Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

    1130 22nd Street South, Suite 2000
    Birmingham, AL 35205
    (800) 669-4000

    You may start the process by calling EEOC. However, EEOC must get a written complaint from you within 180 days after the discrimination. Lawyers at EEOC can help you fill out your complaint, give you further advice and possibly work out a satisfactory settlement for you. You can also seek help from a private lawyer.
  • After EEOC has looked into your case, it will send you a "right-to-sue" letter. You will have only 90 days after the date of this letter to file a lawsuit in the United States District Court for your area. As soon as you receive a "right-to-sue" letter, you should see a private lawyer. If you do not file a lawsuit within 90 days, you lose your claim.

What if I was a union member?

  • If you were covered by a union contract, you should see your union representative for help in filing a grievance.
  • If you have a valid claim, the union must help you.
  • It does not matter whether you were a member or not.
  • Your union may have a private lawyer who can advise you or represent you free of charge. Ask your union representative about this.
  • If you feel that your union has discriminated against you in any way because of your race, gender, handicap, age or pregnancy, you can file for discrimination against the union. The steps are the same as filing a complaint against your employer.
  • If your union refuses for no good reason to represent you adequately in your grievance, you may be able to sue the union for breach of its "duty of fair representation."
  • For this kind of lawsuit, you should see a private lawyer. Usually, you have only 180 days to file a lawsuit after the point you knew that the union had refused to help you.

What if I worked for the state or federal government or a governmental agency?

  • You may have a right to a hearing to try and get your job back.
  • Even if you were a probationary government employee, you still may have a right to a hearing to "clear" your name, depending on the reason for your discharge.
  • In either case, you should get a copy of your employee handbook.
  • Check with your employee group to see if you have a right to a free lawyer.
  • You may want to see if you can find a lawyer willing to represent you on a contingent fee basis.

Can I sue for libel or slander?

  • Generally, you can only win a libel or slander case against your former employer or supervisor if you can prove you did not get a new job because of a false statement by your former employer or supervisor.
  • An opinion does not count as a false statement.
  • You cannot recover against anyone who expressed his personal opinion about your job performance, ability or attitude.
  • You can see a private lawyer.

What happens to my pension?

  • If you worked for this employer at least 5 to 10 years, you may have a right to draw out any of your own wages that you contributed toward a pension plan.
  • Depending upon the terms of your pension plan, you might even be entitled to draw pension benefits now if you were disabled at the time you lost your job. Otherwise, you should be able to start drawing when you reach the "retirement age" specified in the pension plan itself.
  • If you were under a union contract, ask your local union or district office representative about your pension rights.
  • Otherwise, you can see a private lawyer. Or you may ask a Legal Services lawyer for advice.

What about my health insurance?

  • If you had group health insurance at work, you may be able to continue your health insurance at relatively low group rates. You will have to pay the full cost. This is true even if your employer used to pay all or part of the premium.
  • Your right to continued coverage is for anywhere from 18 to 36 months after you quit, were fired, were laid off or retired.
  • The law says your employer must send you a notice about continuing your insurance.
  • To protect yourself, write to your employer and the insurance company right away saying that you want continued coverage under COBRA.
  • You must also bring all of the insurance premiums up to date.
  • If you have any trouble getting this insurance continued, see a lawyer right away.


If you need help finding a private lawyer, you can contact the Alabama State Bar Lawyer Referral Service at 1-800-392-5660.


AlabamaLegalHelp.org offers legal information, not legal advice. This website provides information on your rights and options. However, the site does not apply the law to your personal facts. For legal advice, you should call a lawyer. To apply for free legal services in Alabama, call the Legal Services Alabama office that is closest to where you live OR call toll-free 1-866-456-4995. You can also apply online HERE.

Last Review and Update: Nov 20, 2019