Unfair job termination is another term for wrongful termination. Wrongful termination occurs when an employee is being terminated from employment for an illegal reason. 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. It is therefore considered 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 retaliation. If their employer responds to their actions by terminating their employment, it is illegal and wrongful termination;
- Breach of Good Faith and Fair Dealing: This is considered wrongful termination when the employer terminates the employee for a fabricated reason;
- Violation of Public Policy: If an employer terminates an employee because they belong to a recognized group or political party, it is wrongful termination; and
- Family or Medical Leave: Employees that 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 Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). The FMLA states that they are entitled to unpaid leave, and are to have their 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.
If an employee is fired for reporting wrongful activities, or for filing a workers compensation claim, these can constitute unfair termination. Although the firing may not strictly be “illegal,” it is a violation of public policy. What this means is that it is bad for society as a whole. In such cases, courts have the power to hold the employer liable. Unfair termination laws are in place to protect employees from unfair and exploitative labor laws.
What’s the Difference Between an At-Will Employee vs Just-Cause Employment? Are There Any Exceptions to Firing At-Will Employees?
The type of employment determines how and for what reasons an employer can fire an employee. There are two general types of employment:
- At-Will Employment: Most employees are considered to be at-will employees. What this means is that their employer is legally allowed to terminate their employment at any time. The employer may terminate an at-will employment arrangement for any reason, as long as that reason is not illegal, or for no reason at all; and
- Just Cause Employment: Just cause employment generally requires terms that provide a guarantee to the employee that they will only be fired if there is a good reason. The just-cause provision does not necessarily have to be within an employee’s employment contract. And, this protection often exists provided that just-cause firings are demanded according to company policy. An example of this would be a clause in the employee manual.
At-will employees are also allowed to leave their job at any time for any reason. Although many employees are “at-will” employees and can be fired or terminated at any time without cause, there are some important exceptions where an employee cannot be wrongfully terminated. Such exceptions were addressed in the previous section as examples of unfair or wrongful termination. To reiterate, potential exceptions to firing at-will employees could include:
- Illegal acts; and
- Family or Medical Leave (“FMLA”).
An employer cannot use tools such as demotion, harassment, unjustified pay cuts, or poor working conditions to force you to “voluntarily” leave your job. This is known as constructive dismissal. In some cases, these actions may be justified due to downsizing, moving to a new facility, or eliminating certain positions.
However, if such actions are not justified or are motivated by the illegal justifications listed above, this could give rise to a wrongful termination action. It is imperative to remember that harassment is never justified, as there is a clear difference from harassment and criticism for poor work performance.
What Should I Do If I Got Fired Unfairly?
If you have been terminated unfairly, your first step should be to contact your employer’s human resources department. It is important to note that you will most likely need to exhaust all available administrative remedies before moving on with any legal action, such as an unfair termination lawsuit. If the human resources department is unable to resolve your issues, you may then contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and file a claim against your employer. The EEOC combats workplace discrimination and may conduct an investigation in order to issue a remedy.
Before filing a complaint with the EEOC, you should gather as much information as possible. This could include:
- Hiring and firing forms;
- Pay stubs;
- Written witness statements; and
- Anything else you believe will support your claims.
If the EEOC does not suitably remedy the situation, you may then file a civil lawsuit. A successful lawsuit could result in the following equitable remedies:
- Reinstatement to your position if you would like to return;
- Injunction against the employer to prevent them from taking action;
- Compensation for any loss of pay or benefits;
- A “make whole” solution, which may include transferring or promoting the employee, increasing the employee’s wage, or clearing the employee’s personnel file of any wrongs; or
- Compensation for any out of pocket expenses related to searching for a new job, or directly caused by the unfair termination.
If an at-will employee wishes to sue their employer for wrongful termination, they would need strong evidence that the employer acted illegally. As previously mentioned, wrongful termination in an at-will state would generally consist of the employer firing the employee for an illegal reason. In other states, wrongful termination could be due to the employer breaching the employment contract.
What If My Employer Breached My Employment Contract?
An employee who has been terminated in a breach of an employment contract may bring a claim for breach of contract against their employer. This may extend to some at-will employees if their employer has given the employee an implied employment contract. An implied employment contract exists when the employer, through their words or actions, promises continued employment to the employee and the employee relies on this promise.
Some employees have written or oral contracts. These contracts guarantee that they will not be fired except for certain reasons. If the employer fires the employee for a reason not stated in the contract, the employee may sue the employer for breach of contract. However, it is important to remember that written contracts are far easier to enforce and prove than oral contracts. Additionally, some states do not realize specific oral contracts as legally enforceable.
The employee can recover the money that was owed under the remaining term of the contract. However, the employee has the duty to mitigate their damages by looking for another job. In a case involving breach of employment contract, the employee cannot sue for pain and suffering. Nor may they sue for punitive damages. The employee can only sue and try to recover attorneys’ fees, and costs if the employment contract allows it.
Can a Lawyer Help You With Your Unfair Termination?
If you think you are facing unfair termination, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable employment lawyer as soon as possible. An experienced and logical employment attorney can inform you of your state’s specific employment laws, as well as advise you regarding your legal options. Finally, an experienced attorney can also represent you in court, as necessary.