Acceptable Reasons for Employee Termination

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 What Are the Most Common Reasons for Firing an Employee?

There are numerous common reasons for legally firing an employees, including, but not limited to:

The reasons listed above are the most easily justifiable. Because of this, it may be difficult to fight these types of charges.

What Reasons Are NOT Justified for Firing an Employee?

Common reasons for being terminated that employees can legally fight and may be able to win include:

What Is Wrongful Termination?

Wrongful termination, also called unlawful termination, it a concept in employment law that refers to employers firing employees for illegal or unauthorized reasons, which are reasons that:

  • Violate federal, state, or local laws;
  • Go against public policy; or
  • Breach the terms of an employment agreement.

Wrongful termination may also occur when an employer terminated an employee because they refused to obey work instructions that were illegal, such as ignoring safety regulations for a certain task or committing a felony offense, such as larceny or tax evasion. Employees can be unlawfully terminated when an employer does not follow the company’s policies governing termination.

This occurs when the employer does not follow the proper protocols when they release the employee from their position. It is important to note that, when employers terminate an employee in a way that is illegal or unlawful, there may be legal consequences.

Employers may be required to compensate the employee in some way, such as:

  • Reimbursing them in back pay;
  • Reinstating them to their prior position; or
  • Paying them monetary compensation for a specified reason.

In general, employers are not required to provide an employee with any notice before terminating them from their position. There are, however, two exemptions that may constitute unlawful or wrongful termination.

One exception is if there is a valid employment agreement that states that the employer is required to provide notice before a termination. The second exception, as noted above, is when the employer does not follow the policies of its own employment handbook.

What Are Wrongful Termination Lawsuits?

Wrongfully terminated or unfairly terminated employees make up a large percentage of the employment lawsuits filed each year. Wrongful termination is often associated with the following legal issues:

  • Retaliatory discharge: This occurs when an employer terminates an employee because that employee filed a complaint against the company, known as a whistleblower. Workers are entitled to file legal claims against employers without being discharged for the complaint;
    • Examples of protected activities may include:
      • Reporting harassment or discrimination in the workplace;
      • Leaving work for public policy reasons, for example, attending mandatory jury duty;
      • Filing a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC); and
      • Participating in a mandatory investigation, for example, wage violations or other lawsuits;
  • Discrimination: Termination may be considered unlawful when it is for a discriminatory reason. An example of this would be if an employer only fires workers who are above a certain age, in which case there may be grounds for a claim of wrongful termination;
  • Breach of contract: If terminating an employee breaches the terms of their employment contract, it would be considered unlawful;
  • Leave: Under both federal laws and state laws, employees cannot be terminated for taking a valid family, medical, or personal leave of absence; and
  • Fraud: An employee is terminated for reasons associated with fraud; specifically, for fraudulent concealment. In an employment law context, fraudulent concealment refers to when an employer intentionally misleads an employee regarding the tasks required for a job.

Can an At-Will Employee Be Unlawfully Terminated?

Generally, most employment arrangements are considered to be at-will employment. This means that employees are hired for an unspecified amount of time, during which time, the employer has the right to terminate the employee at any time and without case.

With at-will employment arrangements, without cause means that an employee may be terminated for any reason or for no reason at all, so long as that reason is not unlawful or illegal. Although the laws of every state may differ regarding what constitutes without case, there are reasons that are typically not considered to be a proper basis for terminated an employee, including:

  • Discrimination: Termination that is based on:
    • religion;
    • race;
    • gender;
    • age;
    • disability; or
    • other protected characteristics;
  • Breach of the employment contract: As discussed above; and
  • Public policy exceptions: As noted above, these may include retaliatory termination or whistleblowing.

What Are Some Common Legal Remedies For Unlawful Termination?

Legal claims that are based on unlawful termination are typically investigated by government agencies, including the EEOC or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). These types of claims are intended to restore an employee to the same situation that they would have been in prior to the illegal conduct.

This means that, if an employee brings a successful wrongful termination lawsuit, they can typically expect to receive some type of financial compensation for being unlawfully terminated. One specific category of remedy that is common for unlawful termination claims is a monetary damages award that is issued by the employer to the plaintiff in a court order.

This damages award can help a plaintiff recover for their losses, such as those associated with:

  • Lost wages;
  • Back pay;
  • Lost benefits;
  • Pain and suffering; or
  • Court costs or attorneys’ fees.

It is important to note that damages that are associated with a claim of pain and suffering, including emotional distress, and attorneys’ fees are not commonly awarded. It is also important to note that the term lost benefits refers to the monetary value of the benefits.

Determining this value may require testimony from an expert witness. Other legal remedies may require an employer to reinstate the terminated employee back to the original position, if the employee would like to do so.

In cases involving widespread discrimination issues, a court may apply broader remedies that could potentially affect the entire business. One example of this would be how a court may order that the hiring staff, which often includes the human resources department or an outsourced staffing company, has to be disciplined or replaced. A court may also order that hiring policies must be redrafted so they will be fair and lawful.

This is accomplished by issuing an injunction. This remedy restrains a party from acting in a way that threatens or invades the legal rights of another party.

Do I Need an Attorney?

If you believe you have faced an unfair termination for an illegal reason, it is important to consult with a wrongful termination lawyer who can advise you of the possible remedies available in your case. Your lawyer will protect your rights while helping you to obtain the remedy you desire for your wrongful termination.

It is important to note you may be required to go through all possible administrative remedies before filing a lawsuit, such as with your company’s human resources department or a government agency, such as the EEOC. Your lawyer can help you with these processes as well as file a lawsuit and represent you in court if it becomes necessary.

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