Wrongful or unfair termination is what occurs when an employee is illegally fired from their job. Most employees are considered to be at-will employees; meaning, their employer is legally allowed to terminate their employment at any time. This means can be terminated for any reason, or for no reason at all.
At-will employees are also allowed to leave their job at any time, for any reason. Meaning, they do not need to provide their employer without any notice without it being considered a breach of employment contract. However, there are laws in place that protect employees. If an employer breaks any of these laws when terminating an employee, it would be considered wrongful termination.
The following are some examples of wrongful or unfair termination:
- Discrimination: If an employer terminates an employee based on their belonging to a protected class, it is considered to be discrimination. As such, it is considered to be wrongful termination. Race or color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, pregnancy, and sexual orientation are all protected classes;
- Retaliation: Employees who report their employers for workplace violations are legally protected from employer retaliation. If their employer responds to the employee’s actions by terminating their employment, it is illegal and wrongful termination;
- Breach of Good Faith and Fair Dealing: This is considered to be wrongful termination when the employer terminates the employee for a fabricated reason;
- Violation of Public Policy: If an employer terminates an employee due to the fact that they belong to a specific recognized group or political party, it is considered to be wrongful termination; and
- Family or Medical Leave: Employees who need to take time off for extended medical leave, such as caring for sick loved ones or taking maternal/paternal leave, are protected under the “Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).” This Act states that employees are entitled to unpaid leave, and are to maintain their position so they have a job to return to. If an employer terminates an employee because they need to take time off for medical reasons, it could be considered wrongful termination.
Before retaining an attorney for your wrongful termination case, you will need to first consult with them. To put it simply, a legal consultation is an initial meeting with an attorney, taking place before you make the decision on whether to hire that attorney to represent you in your particular legal matter. The attorney will also use the consultation to determine if they can legally and competently represent you, based on the information that you provide.
It is important to note that an initial legal consultation does not mean that the attorney is officially representing you, nor have they taken on your case. Generally speaking, in order for an attorney to legally represent you, there must be a written representation agreement. This agreement is to be signed by both you and the attorney. Alternatively, you must be able to prove that through their words or actions, the attorney consented to representing you.
What Documentation and Questions Should I Prepare Before I Meet with My Wrongful Termination Lawyer?
Prior to consulting with an attorney, you should ensure that you properly prepare for the consultation by gathering any and all documents associated with your case. You should bring every document you have for the attorney to review, as the attorney will be able to properly determine which documents are relevant, and which are not.
Some examples of documents that you should bring with you may include any of the following:
- Police or accident reports;
- Property deeds or any documents relating to the property, such as an oil and gas lease;
- Employment records, such as your employment contract, employment agreements, or timesheets; or
- Other documents evidencing damages, such as medical records or expenses, or any warranties or letters created by the other party.
In terms of wrongful termination, specifically, you will need to provide a significant amount of evidence to prove wrongful termination. This would be true for both an EEOC complaint and a lawsuit. Such evidence will be especially important if you were employed in an at-will state.
Common examples of evidence used when attempting to prove wrongful termination include:
- A copy of your employment contract;
- Emails, text messages, voicemails, and other documentation of relevant communications such as those between you and your employer;
- Pay stubs;
- Witness statements; and
- Hiring and firing forms.
What is discussed during a legal consultation will heavily depend on your particular legal issue. Generally speaking, some discussions that normally occur at a consultation include:
- Experience: You should be prepared to ask the attorney what their experience consists of. This would include their experience in the legal field in general, as well as their experience handling cases similar to yours;
- Costs: An initial consultation will generally always include a discussion of the fees that an attorney may charge, in order to represent you regarding your legal dispute. Attorney fee arrangements may be based on a contingency fee, a flat fee, or hourly fee basis. It is important to discuss an attorney’s fee arrangement during the consultation, especially if an attorney’s fees will largely determine whether you hire the attorney. Another cost that you should ask about prior to the consultation is whether the consultation itself is free of charge; initial consultations generally are; and
- Legal Claims and Facts: An initial consultation will always include a discussion of the legal facts and your legal claims. It is important to be honest in telling the attorney about your particular case, as lying about the facts or circumstances surrounding your case will lead to criminal sanctions or other civil penalties. It is important to be honest during an initial legal consultation, as legal consultations are confidential under the attorney client privilege. This means that anything that you tell an attorney privately as a means of acquiring legal services is confidential and cannot be used against you later, should you choose to not hire that attorney.
Once again, although simply having an initial consultation does not form an attorney client relationship, communications made privately to an attorney are privileged and confidential. Without the attorney client privilege, prospective clients would be fearful of openly and honestly communicating the facts of their case, as the information could then be later used against them in a court of law.
That is why it is important to be open and honest in an initial consultation, so that the attorney may properly evaluate the facts of your case, and provide competent legal advice as to your legal options moving forward.
What Makes a Wrongful Termination Case Strong? What Makes it Weak?
A strong wrongful termination case will consist of sufficient, strong evidence. It is crucial that the plaintiff is able to show the court that their employer terminated their employment for truly illegal reasons. A weak case would rely on hearsay and limited evidence to make the point.
When Do I Absolutely Need a Lawyer for a Wrongful Termination Case?
If you suspect you have been wrongfully terminated, you should consult with a local employment attorney as soon as possible. An experienced and local employment law attorney will be best suited to understanding how your state’s laws will affect your case. It is often difficult to navigate wrongful termination.
Additionally, in most cases, the employer has the advantage. An experienced and well qualified employment attorney can explain your rights to you, as well as advise you regarding your best course of legal action. Finally, an attorney can also help you file a civil suit if needed, as well as represent you in court as necessary.