Wrongful termination occurs when an employee is improperly terminated from his or her job. State laws vary on the rules concerning employer and employee relations, but most states have enacted what is called at-will employment.
What is At-Will Employment?
At-will employment refers to an employer’s right to fire an employee for any reason, so long as it is legal and isn’t used for an improper purpose. This is a big obstacle for the employee in terms of filing a claim, however, there are exceptions to an at-will employment termination (wrongful termination).
Several exceptions exist, which are questions your attorney may ask, and are discussed below. The following are three of the most common exceptions:
- Public Policy - If the employer fires an employee for reasons that are covered by public policy, federal or state law, it is considered wrongful. An example would be the firing of a whistleblower at the company.
- Implied Contract - If the employee was employed under an implied contract, she may be entitled to compensation if the company procedure for firing employees was not followed correctly.
- Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing - Requires the employer to only fire an employee if there is good cause.
How Do I File a Complaint Against an Employer?
If you wish to file a complaint against your employer, going through human resources may be the first step. If this doesn’t resolve the issue, file your complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC may issue a remedy after an investigation, and if not, you can then file a civil lawsuit. These steps are typically required before bringing the case to court.
Can I Get Advice on How to File a Wrongful Termination Suit Through the EEOC?
Before you file with the EEOC, make sure to gather as much supporting evidence as possible. Include documents, hiring and firing forms, pay stubs, written witness statements, and any other items pertinent to your claim. Once you have gathered all the information, contact the EEOC and submit your claim along with your evidence.
Usually, you must contact an EEOC counselor within 45 days of the incident. If the matter isn’t resolved after 30 days, you must file a formal complaint with an EEOC office within 180 days of the termination. From here, the EEOC will conduct an investigation, and will try to resolve the problem. If the plaintiff still does not agree, he may then file a civil suit.
If the EEOC Investigation Is Not Enough, How Can I File a Lawsuit for Wrongful Termination?
As previously mentioned, if the EEOC does not require the employer to remedy the issue, you may then file a civil lawsuit. Consulting an employment attorney is a good idea before proceeding further.
What Type of Evidence Will I Need When Filing My Wrongful Termination Lawsuit?
You will need to gather the same supporting evidence for filing a lawsuit, that you gathered when you filed a claim with the EEOC. Include pay stubs, statements and testimony, witness statements, and any other supporting evidence. Be sure to also subjectively account for your termination from beginning to end, in a written statement.
What Questions Should I Expect at a Meeting with a Wrongful Termination Lawyer?
When consulting an employment attorney, you can prepare yourself by anticipating the following questions:
- Were You Discriminated Against? If an employer violated any protected classes under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, you may be entitled to compensation.
- Did You Have an Employment Contract? If you were not an at-will employee, make sure to bring your employment contract to your attorney.
- Was Your Termination Retaliatory? If you were fired because you refused to violate the law, or if you reported any violations, be sure to inform your attorney that you were a whistleblower.
- Were You Terminated While on Medical or Military Leave? Federal law protects medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), as well as military leave.
- Do You Have a Right to Sue Letter? This will be sent by the EEOC, after you have filed with the commission, which allows you to file a federal case against your employer.
- When Did the Discrimination Occur? Always check your state’s statute of limitations. If you pass the deadline, your suit may be vacated.
- What Damage Did You Suffer Because of Your Wrongful Termination? Let your lawyer know how you were financially impacted. Bring pay stubs and any other evidence to aid in calculation.
- What Should I Bring to a Meeting with a Wrongful Termination Lawyer? Make sure to bring as much evidence as possible. W-2 forms, pay stubs, employee contract, personnel records, receipts, and any correspondence with your employer.
Damages in a Wrongful Termination Case
If a wrongful termination lawsuit is successful, the employee will typically be awarded damages equivalent to lost wages, lost benefits, and attorney fees. Emotional distress and punitive damages are much more difficult to obtain, unless the employer’s acts were especially reprehensible, and a mental health professional can verify that the employee suffered great harm.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Guidance on How to File a Wrongful Termination Suit?
Wrongful termination lawsuits can be tedious and overwhelming. There are many steps involved, and an employment lawyer can assist you in your claim from start to finish. If you have been wrongfully terminated, contact an attorney immediately. Filing deadlines are strict and you don’t want to miss out on compensation that you may be entitled.