If an individual is dismissed from their employment without cause, they may have a valid claim for wrongful termination against their employer. Wrongful termination, also called unlawful termination, is a term used in employment law. It refers to situations when an employer terminates an employee for an unauthorized or illegal reason.

This may include reasons which:

  • Violate laws, including:
    • Federal laws;
    • State laws; or
    • Local laws;
  • Go against public policy; or
  • Breach the terms of an employment agreement.

Wrongful terminations may also occur when employers terminate employees who have refused to obey work instructions which are not legal. This may include an unlawful activity, such as skirting safety regulations for specific job tasks or requesting that the employee commit an even more serious crime, including felony offenses such as larceny or tax evasion.

Another way employees may be unlawfully terminated is when employers ignore their own company policies regarding the termination process. For example, if the employer does not follow proper company protocols when they are releasing the employee from their job.

It is important to note that if an employer terminates an employee in a manner which is considered illegal or unlawful, they may face legal consequences for their actions. This may mean that the employer will be required to compensate the terminated employee in some manner.

This may include the employer being required to:

  • Reimburse the employee in back pay;
  • Reinstate the employee to their former position;
  • Paying the employee monetary compensation for a particular reason; and
  • Various other types of relief.

What is At-Will Employment vs. Contract Employment?

The standing of an individual’s claim against their employer depends on whether they were an at-will employee or a contract employee. In general, an employer is permitted to terminate an at-will employee for any reason or for no reason at all.

However, an employer is prohibited from terminating an employee due to discrimination or any other illegal reason. An employee who signed an employment contract may have greater protections than an at-will employee.

Employment contracts are agreements which are formed between employers and employees regarding the employment situation. The parties to the contract are the employer and the employee.

Employment contracts contain terms and provisions which govern the employment relationship. For example, the contract may state that an employee will work for their employer for a specific number of hours for an hourly wage or a yearly salary.

Employment contracts may also specify benefits, which may include paid time off or health insurance benefits. A contract may state the possible grounds for termination and how much notice each party is required if they desire to terminate the employment contract.

Not every employment relationship is governed by an employment contract. If the employment is less formal, it is usually good to have an employment contract.

It is important to be aware that employment contracts are not required to be written, they may also be oral. It is best, however, if the contract is in written form. This will ensure the contract is available for the parties to use in order to resolve their disputes.

Once the employment contract is entered into, it is binding on both the employee and the employer. In other words, if either of the parties fails to perform as outlined in the contract, then that party may be held legally responsible in court.

It is important to note however, that the rules for terminating an employee depends upon the employer’s company policies as well as the terms of the contract.

Common termination provisions included in employment contracts include:

  • Termination only for cause;
  • Termination for reasons which are stipulated in the contract, such as the failure to meet performance requirements;
  • Termination prior to the expiration of the contract must be agreed upon by both parties; and
  • Various other possible provisions.

An employer who fails to abide by the provisions of an employment contract may be held liable for breach of contract in addition to wrongful termination.

What are Promises of Continued Employment?

Even if an individual is an at-will employee, they may have a case for wrongful termination if they are terminated after receiving a promise of continued employment. A promise made by an employer for continued employment may form an implied employment contract.

An implied employment contract is required to be made by the employer through oral assurance or by expectations which are created by:

  • Employer handbooks;
  • Policies; or
  • Other written assurance.

Evidence which may support an individual’s case may include:

  • Positive performance reviews;
  • Frequent promotions; and
  • Verbal or written statements concerning a future with the company.

What are Wrongful Terminations Due to Employer Violations?

In addition to breaching an employment contract, there are other manners in which the actions of an employer may give rise to a wrongful termination claim. These actions may include when the termination of the employee:

  • Violates company policy;
  • Violates the practices of good faith and fair dealing; or
  • Violates public policy.

An employee may have a wrongful termination claim if their employer violated their own policies regarding terminating employees. For example, if an employer fails to give the employee a warning prior to firing them.

If an individual has questions regarding their employer’s employee termination policies, it is important to consult their employee manual. An individual may also review their employment contract and/or contact someone in the Human Resources department.

An employer has a general duty to deal fairly and honestly with their employees. For example, an employer cannot create a fictional cause of action in order to terminate an employee for the purpose of hiring another employee.

Public policy represents certain actions which are protected because they serve the general good of society. For example, an employer is not permitted to terminate an employee for:

  • Taking time off of work to serve on a jury;
  • Taking time off of work to serve in the military; or
  • Whistle-blowing.

In addition, an employer is not permitted to retaliate against an employee for filing a claim for:

Am I Required to Receive Notice Before I am Fired from My Job?

In general, an employer is not required to give an employee notice prior to firing them from their position. There are, however, two exceptions to this rule.

The first exception is when a valid employment agreement exists and the terms of that agreement state that the employer is required to provide notice to the employee prior to their termination. The second exception is if the termination goes against the policies which are contained in a company’s employment handbook.

In the majority of instances, however, the employer is not required to provide advance notice to an employee who is being terminated.

Should I Consult an Attorney?

It is essential to have the assistance of an wrongful termination attorney if you believe you were wrongfully terminated by your employer. It is important to consult your attorney as soon as possible to preserve evidence.

Your attorney can advise you of the laws in your state as well as evaluate your claim. Your attorney will also file the required court paperwork, negotiate settlements, and advocate for you in court.