Unlawful termination is an employment law concept. Unlawful termination occurs when an employer terminates an employee for a reason that is illegal or unauthorized.
Unlawful termination is also referred to as wrongful termination or wrongful discharge. It makes up a large percentage of the employment lawsuits that are filed every year.
Unlawful termination may involve several legal issues, including:
- Retaliatory discharge;
- Breach of contract;
- Leave; and
Retaliatory discharge occurs when an employer terminates an employee because that employee filed a complaint against the company, or was a whistleblower. Workers are entitled to file legal claims against their employers without facing discharge for filing.
Protected activities by employees may include:
- Reporting harassment or discrimination in the workplace;
- Leaving work for a public policy reason, such as attending mandatory jury duty;
- Filing a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC); and
- Participating in a mandatory investigation, including wage violations or other lawsuits.
The termination of an employee may be considered unlawful if it is done solely for a discriminatory reason. For example, if the employer only terminates employees over a certain age, there may be grounds for a wrongful termination claim.
Some employment relationships are governed by an employment contract. The termination of an employee may breach this contract.
Pursuant to both federal laws and state laws, employees are entitled to take leave for certain issues. The employee cannot be fired for taking valid family, medical, or a personal leave of absence.
Employees may, in some cases, be terminated for reasons which relate to fraud. This applies especially in cases of fraudulent concealment.
In the context of employment law, fraudulent concealment occurs when an employer intentionally misleads an employee regarding the tasks which are required for their position. For example, suppose that an individual leaves their current employer to accept what seems to be a better position with a new employer.
If that new employer, in order to get the employee to accept the position, does not inform the employee that they are planning to fire all employees in two weeks, the employee may have a claim against the new employer for fraudulent concealment. In addition, unlawful termination may result when an employer terminates an employee who refused to comply with instructions which were illegal.
This may include illegal conduct, such as ignoring safety regulations for a certain job or committing a more serious crime, such as a felony. This may include offenses such as tax evasion or larceny.
A wrongful discharge may also occur if an employer violates their company’s own policies when terminating the employee. For example, if the employer fails to follow the proper procedures for terminating the employee.
Reporting an unlawful termination may be necessary in situations where an employee was terminated in a manner in which violates the law. Unlawful termination may occur for various reasons, including, but not limited to:
- Firing an employee in a manner which breaches the terms of their employment contract;
- Firing an employee because they reported a violation, called retaliatory discharge;
- Terminating an employee in a manner which constitutes employment discrimination;
- Firing an employee who has complained about safety and working conditions; and
- Firing an employee in a way that contradicts company policies as stated in the employee handbook.
How Can I Report Unlawful Termination?
In general, reporting unlawful termination may be initiated by filing a claim with the appropriate government employment agency. There are numerous agencies which may handle these types of claims.
Which agency an individual will file their claim with will depend upon the legal issue in the case. Once a claim has been filed, the governmental agency will conduct an investigation of the unlawful termination issue.
For example, unlawful termination claims involving discrimination should be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC handles termination claims that specifically involve discrimination issues.
If an individual’s claim involves health or safety conditions at their workplace, they will generally file their claim with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which handles these types of issues. It is typically necessary to file a claim with a governmental agency prior to being permitted to file a lawsuit in court.
There may, however, be some exceptions to the rule requiring permission to file a lawsuit from a government agency.
What Are the Legal Remedies for Unlawful Termination?
As previously noted, claims involving wrongful termination are typically investigated by a government agency, such as the EEOC or OSHA. The goal of these claims is to place the employee back in the same condition as they were prior to their wrongful termination.
In the majority of cases, the immediate remedy for a claim of unlawful termination is that a plaintiff is reinstated back to the position they had prior to being terminated. Other remedies which may be available include damages awards to reimburse the individual for lost wages and other expenses related to the unlawful termination.
It is common for an unlawful termination claim to result in a monetary damages award to the plaintiff which can assist them with covering costs, including:
- Lost wages;
- Back pay;
- Lost benefits;
- Pain and suffering;
- Court costs or attorneys’ fees; and
- Various other expenses related to the claim.
Lost benefits include the monetary value of benefits which the employee was entitled to and may require the assistance of an expert to determine the exact amount. It is important to note that damages which are related to pain and suffering, which may include emotional distress, as well as attorneys’ fees, are not commonly awarded.
An employer may, in some cases, be required to adjust their hiring and/or termination policies so that they will conform to legal standards. If a case involves wide-spread discrimination issues, a court may decide to order a broader remedy which will affect the entire business.
For example, a court may order that the staff in charge of hiring, such as human resources or an outsourced staffing company, must be disciplined or replaced. This is accomplished by ordering an injunction.
An injunction is a remedy which orders an individual or entity to either cease engaging in some action or to take a certain action. If an individual believes they may have an unlawful termination claim, they should contact a lawyer as soon as possible.
This is an important step to take because there may be a statute of limitations, or a time period in which the individual must bring their claim. In addition, the more time that passes, the more difficult it will be to gather evidence needed to prove their claim.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
Determining the proper way to report unlawful termination may be a complex task. As discussed above, there are numerous agencies and ways to file a wrongful termination claim.
In addition, different agencies are responsible for investigating different employment issues. Because of this, it will be helpful to have the assistance of a wrongful termination lawyer when you are filing a claim with a governmental agency or when you are filing a lawsuit.
Your lawyer will review your case, advise you which agency you should file your claim with, and help you throughout the process. Having a lawyer’s assistance will help ensure your rights are protected and you receive the compensation you are entitled to.