Unlawful termination or wrongful termination occurs when an employer fires an employee for an illegal reason. For example, it is illegal to fire someone because of their race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.

Although many employees are at-will employees that can be fired at any time, at-will employees cannot be fired for any reason that is illegal.

What Are Some Examples of Unlawful Termination?

Unlawful termination occurs when an employee is fired in a manner that is illegal or against the law. This can include instances such as:

  • Termination based on discrimination (by age, race, etc.)
  • Termination in violation of an employment contract
  • Unauthorized forced termination (due to age usually)
  • Firing an employee because they have reported a violation "(retaliatory discharge)"

Thus, there are many ways in which unlawful termination can occur. Both state and federal employment laws provide guidelines on termination procedures for employers. Unlawful termination is often called "wrongful termination."

Is My Employer Required to Give Me a Reason for the Termination?

This depends on the state where you are employed. In some states, employers must tell you why you are being fired while in other states employers do not need to tell you why they fired you.

How Can I Contest Unlawful Termination?

There are a few ways to contest unlawful termination. For instance, an employee who has been wrongfully terminated may:

  • File a claim with the company’s human resources department
  • File a complaint with the appropriate government agency (such as the EEOC for discrimination-based claims)
  • File a lawsuit in a court of law

In most cases, the employee must "exhaust their remedies" before they can file a lawsuit. This means that they must seek avenues such as a government agency filing first. Only if these preliminary measures have failed can they file a lawsuit. However, these restrictions can vary depending on the legal cause of action. Waivers for these requirements can also be obtained in some situations.

What Are the Legal Remedies for Unlawful Termination?

An employee who is unlawfully terminated is entitled to damages, which include:

  • Lost wages
  • Wages that employee would have earned in the future
  • Cost of health insurance or other benefits employee would have received
  • Attorney fees
  • Court costs
  • Injunctive relief or court order stopping the employer from future discrimination
  • Emotional distress damages
  • Pain and suffering damages
  • Punitive damages to punish the employee for his/her actions

Employees who are part of a union must first exhaust and use up all procedures that are set forth in their union agreement before they can take court action.

Do I Need a Lawyer for help with Unlawful Termination Issues?

Unlawful termination is a serious legal issue and can lead to some far-reaching effects. You may wish to hire an employment lawyer if you need help with unlawful termination or other legal issues. Your attorney can provide you with legal advice and representation for your situation. Also, if you need an update on employment laws, your lawyer can inform you of any changes that might affect your case.