Wrongful termination, also known as unlawful termination or wrongful discharge, is a term used in employment law that refers to when an employee is fired by their employer for reasons that are considered either illegal or unauthorized.
The following is a list of some of the unlawful reasons that may qualify as wrongful termination, such as:
- When an employer fires an employee for a reason that violates any federal, state, or local laws;
- If the employer’s justification for the termination goes against public policy standards;
- When the termination breaches the terms of an employment contract or agreement;
- If the employer terminates an employee for refusing to obey work instructions that are illegal and may result in the employee committing a crime or some other unlawful activity if they follow them; and
- When the employer chooses to ignore company policy, and by doing so, blatantly disregards the proper termination procedures.
As the reasons in the above list demonstrate, a wrongful termination claim can overlap with many other fields of law aside from just employment law. Depending on the circumstances, these types of cases may involve issues that extend to areas of criminal law, contract law, and tort law.
Therefore, if you believe you were wrongfully terminated from your job, you may want to reach out to an employment lawyer in your area for further assistance. A lawyer will be able to determine what fields of law your case may touch upon and the best way to handle your claim.
How Do You Prove Wrongful Termination?
The evidence that is needed to prove wrongful termination will typically be contingent on the facts of a specific case. As a general rule of thumb, however, the following forms of evidence are usually what employees or their attorneys will collect:
- A recording of the event in question (if possible);
- Finding another party who either witnessed the incident or experienced wrongful termination themselves;
- Providing copies of an employment contract, agreement, or an employee handbook; and
- Gathering work-related documents that may demonstrate good behavior, such as timesheets, relevant emails, and performance reviews.
How Can You File a Complaint Against Your Employer?
There is a certain process that an employee must follow before they can file a wrongful termination lawsuit. This is true regardless of the reason as to why that employee was terminated.
After the employee has gathered relevant evidence to show proof, the first step of this process involves filing their claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”).
They can do this by submitting a claim on the EEOC’s website, contacting their main phone number for instructions, or by visiting their local EEOC office or a Fair Employment Practice Agency (FEPA) in their area.
The EEOC will then conduct an investigation into their employer and/or company, which may lead to either gaining some type of remedy for the employee, forcing their employer to change the company’s hiring and firing policies, or both.
If the final results of the EEOC investigation end with an insufficient outcome for the employee, then the employee will be permitted to file a lawsuit.
Can You Sue for Being Wrongfully Terminated?
As discussed above, an employee can sue for a claim of wrongful termination only after they have completed the EEOC filing process. Also, the basis of the lawsuit will be determined by the circumstances that led to the claim and can involve more than one area of law.
For example, if an employee is wrongfully terminated due to reasons that are discriminatory in nature (e.g., race, age, gender, etc.), then the grounds of their lawsuit will be based on a form of discrimination, such as a sexual harassment in the workplace case.
On the other hand, if an employee was wrongfully terminated for a reason that essentially breached the terms of their employment contract, then they may bring a breach of contract action based on the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.
Other grounds for suing may include civil lawsuits for violations of public policy, fraudulent concealment, and wage and hour lawsuits.
Again, wrongful termination claims can involve more than one type of legal issue. Thus, it is a good idea to consult a local employment attorney for advice on such matters.
What Damages Can You Receive from a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit?
The most common type of remedy awarded in wrongful termination lawsuits involves some form of a monetary damages award. The amount that a plaintiff may receive from their employer will largely depend on the facts and circumstances of each case, as well as the laws enacted in a particular jurisdiction. Thus, the amount of damages, if awarded, will vary by claim.
Regardless of how much compensation the plaintiff receives, they may use it to recover certain costs, such as the following:
- Lost wages;
- Back pay;
- Lost benefits (note that this may require the use of an expert to determine the monetary value of the benefits);
- Court costs or attorneys’ fees;
- Pain and suffering (e.g., injuries or emotional distress); and
- Various other expenses related to the claim.
It should be noted, however, that damages to cover attorneys’ fees’ or for pain and suffering are rarely awarded.
In addition, there are also some other remedies that a court may decide to award that are not strictly money-based, such as reinstating the plaintiff back to the job they were fired from, ordering that a company’s hiring and firing policies must be re-drafted, and issuing an injunction to prevent the employer from behaving in whatever inappropriate manner that led to the lawsuit.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File a Wrongful Termination Claim?
As previously mentioned, a wrongful termination claim can involve a wide range of legal issues within a single case. This means that you may need to have a solid understanding of the law generally, as well as the specific state statutes that apply to your case. Also, these types of claims require you to follow strict procedures, which can sometimes be confusing.
Therefore, if you need to file a claim for wrongful termination, it may be in your best interest to contact a local employment lawyer for further guidance.
An experienced employment lawyer will be able to determine whether you have a supportable claim and can discuss the potential outcomes of your case. Your lawyer can also provide legal advice about the relevant laws and procedures in your area, and can help you file your claim. Lastly, they can also represent you in court if necessary.