Unfair termination is the firing of an employee for unjust reasons and is also known as wrongful termination. When an employee is fired for reporting wrongful activities or for filing a worker’s compensation claim, these can constitute unfair termination. Although the firing may not strictly be “illegal,” it is a violation of public policy, which means that it is bad for society as a whole. In those cases, courts have the power to hold the employer liable. 

What are Examples of Unfair Termination?

There are many instances when it becomes unfair and illegal when an employee is terminated from their employment: 

  • Discrimination: When an employee is terminated because of their race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, pregnancy.
  • Retaliation: When an employee is terminated because they filed a complaint against the employer with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
  • Breach of Good Faith and Fair Dealing: Employer acted unfairly toward employee and fabricating reasons to fire them.
  • Violation of Public Policy: Employer firing an employee because they are part of a recognized group or political party.
  • Whistle Blowing Activities: Employer firing an employee that complain that their employer broke any law, regulation, or ordinance at all.
  • Family or Medical Leave: Employer firing an employee who takes time off for reasons listed in the Family and Medical Leave Act.

What are Equitable Remedies for Unfair Termination?

If you bring a claim against your employer for being unfairly terminated and the lawsuit is successful, you can be rewarded certain equitable remedies. An equitable remedy will be something like:

  • Reinstated to your job (if you want it);
  • Injunction against the employer; and/or
  • “Make-whole” the employee, which can mean transferring, promoting, increasing the wage, or clearing the employee’s personnel file of an wrongs.

While the employee can return to their position, they may also receive a promotion, a transfer, a wage increase, etc. Ultimately, the goal for would be to return the employee to the position as if they were never fired. So if the employee was on track for a raise, a promotion, etc. but lost it due to the unfair termination, then the employee will have the right to return to their position with the change.

What are Legal Remedies for Unfair Termination?

A legal remedy for unfair termination is most commonly money such as:

  • Back pay;
  • Front pay; and/or
  • Punitive Damages

Back pay is any wages or benefits that the employee missed due to unfair termination. Whereas front pay is any wages or benefits the employee would miss due to time between the decision to reinstate and when the employee actually returns to their position.

If the employee cannot be reinstated, like if the position has been filled or if the company downsized, then they can be given front pay in lieu of returning to their job.

While punitive damages are possible they are not common. Punitive damages are designed to punish the employer instead of rewarding the employee. So the court will only award punitive damages if the employer’s conduct was terrible enough that the court thinks they should face additional punishment.

In some states, punitive damages are only awarded in certain claims, such as a wrongful death or product liability. If you believe you should be awarded punitive damages, ask your local lawyer to find out if you are eligible. 

Should I Hire an Attorney If I Have Been Unfairly Terminated?

If you feel that you have been fired for unfair and illegal reason, such as discrimination, a local employment lawyer will be needed. Many workers’ rights and civil rights laws have detailed procedures and filing deadlines. An attorney can shepherd you through these procedures in order to get you the relief you seek. If you are an employer facing a wrongful termination lawsuit, you should speak to a lawyer immediately.