If you believe that you have been fired illegally from your job for an unlawful reason, you may have a claim for wrongful termination against your former employer. Wrongful termination occurs when an employer fires an employee for a reason based on some form of discrimination or other unlawful reason. However, it is important to be able to recognize what is not wrongful termination.
All states have laws that establish “at-will employment;” at-will employment is an employment situation where the employee or the employer may terminate the employment relationship for any reason, at any time, as long as the reason is not illegal or discriminatory in nature.
Thus, if you have an at-will employment contract, you may quit your job without notice and for any reason. While at-will employment is very common, remember that laws vary from state to state, so be sure to check your local state employment laws before you make a decision.
Most reasons for firing a person are not discriminatory by nature. For instance, a person can be fired randomly or for something as subtle as a personality conflict. Often in at-will employment situations, there is an at-will clause in the employment contract which is signed by the employee.
However, at-will employment may also be established by an oral contract. It is important to remember that an employer’s ability to fire an at-will employee does not allow them to wrongfully terminate an employee.
What are Some Examples of Wrongful Termination?
As noted above, not every act of being fired qualifies as an act of wrongful termination. Below are examples of acts made by an employer that may constitute wrongful termination:
- Discrimination: It is illegal for an employer to fire you based on your race, sex, religion disability, age, national origin, or disability. Additionally, in some states, your employer may not fire you based on your sexual orientation, marital status, or gender identity.
- Whistleblowing: An employee may not be fired for whistleblowing. A person, typically an employee, who reports illegal activities or misconduct that are unlawful or harm the public interest to the proper authorities is known as a whistleblower.
- In these situations, the employee may not be terminated or retaliated against, regardless of whether the employee reports the misconduct internally or to an outside governmental agency.
- Family and Medical Leave Act Termination: An employer cannot be terminated for taking paternity or medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, employees are provided job protection and unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons. Firing an employee on such a leave would likely constitute wrongful termination.
- Constructive Discharge: An employee may not be compelled to resign because the working conditions were so intolerable that it was virtually impossible for them to continue working.
- For example, if your employer moved you job position to a remote location or forced you to work in a situation they knew would be impossible for you to do, then you may have a case for a wrongful termination lawsuit based on constructive discharge.
- Serving in the Military: An employee may not be terminated if they take leave from their employment to serve in the military.
- Voting: In many states, an employee cannot be terminated for taking off work to vote in a county, state, or national election.
- Union Contracts: Many states prohibit employers from threatening, intimidating, discriminating, or terminating an employee for exercising their right to engage in a union strike.
- Wage Garnishment for an Outside Debt: If an employee’s paycheck is subject to garnishment for some outside debt, such as child support, their employer may not terminate them based on that garnishment.
- Other Insufficient Terminations or Retaliation: In addition to the above, an employer may not fire an employee for isolated threats or violence, so long as those behaviors are minor. Further, an employer may not fire an employee because the employee complained about harassment, workplace safety concerns, or wage and hour violations.
In addition to a wrongful termination lawsuit, if you have an employment contract that specifies that you may only be terminated for certain reasons, such as committing gross misconduct, then your employer may only fire you for those specified reasons. If you have been wrongfully terminated and were not an at-will employee, then you may have an additional claim for breach of contract.
Should I Hire an Attorney for My Wrongful Termination Claim?
If you have been recently terminated from your job, and you believe that you have been wrongfully terminated, then contacting a well qualified and licensed employment attorney may be in your best interests.
Employment law is often quite complicated, and an attorney may be able to help evaluate your claim against your employer, inform you of your chances for success, help you negotiate with your employer, and even represent you in front of a court of law, if necessary.
Further, many employment attorneys will often represent you on a contingent fee basis, meaning that they will front the costs of the lawsuit in exchange for a percentage of your recovery should you win. Thus, money should not be a barrier for seeking help with your wrongful termination suit.
If you believe that you may soon be terminated from your employment, an attorney may help you negotiate a severance package for acceptable compensation. Most wrongful termination lawsuits settle well before the claim appears before a court of law, thus, an experienced employment attorney can help you make sure you get the best possible settlement given your personal circumstances.