Wrongful Termination in Washington
Washington is an at-will employment state. This means that at any given time, either employer or employee may terminate the work relationship, so long as the reason for doing so is not illegal. Therefore it can be somewhat challenging to determine who is at fault in an at-will termination.
In the state of Washington, the at-will presumption may be overcome if the employer made clear and unambiguous statements of job security to the employee. This is best satisfied by a written employment contract that outlines termination procedures very clearly.
In addition to illegal acts committed by the employer, Washington employment laws also provide “exceptions” which allow for a wrongful termination claim even in an at-will arrangement. These exceptions include:
- Contractual Violations: Employer breaches of contractual agreements will result in wrongful termination. These include breaches of employment contracts, collective bargaining agreements, or policies contained in company manuals or handbooks.
- Statutory Exceptions: If a termination violates a statute, then it is wrongful. Examples of statutory violations include discrimination and violations of whistleblower laws (“retaliatory discharge”)
- Public Policy: Some types of terminations are illegal because they go against public policy. These are claims are generally allowed in four situations:
- Firing a worker for refusing to participate in an illegal act;
- Firing a worker for performing a public obligation (such as jury duty)
- Firing an employee who is exercising their legal rights (such as filing for workman’s compensation)
- Firing an employee who reports company misconduct (“whistleblowing”)
Each of these different categories may require a different standard of proof. For example, statutory violations will be analyzed according the statute in question. On the other hand, a breach of employment contract will likely depend on the individual contract terms. Most wrongful termination claims in Washington are based on discrimination or harassment.
Also, some of these exceptions may fall into more than one category. Therefore you may wish to consult with an employment attorney who can help organize your claim. Your attorney can help you recover losses, including back pay, reinstatement to your previous job position, and other damages such as punitive and distress damages. A qualified Washington lawyer can provided you more information if there is a legal basis for a claim.
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Last Modified: 09-06-2012 08:54 AM PDT
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