In the state of Georgia, employment is presumed to be "at-will" when no contract exists between the employer and employee. At-will employment arrangements allow either the employer or employee to terminate the work relationship at any given time. The termination may be done for any stated reason, so long as law does not prohibit the reason. Because each party has so much discretion when terminating the relationship, at-will employment in Georgia can make wrongful termination suits very complicated.
There are some exceptions to the at-will rule. For example, if a Georgia employer fires an employee for discriminatory reasons, a breach of employment contract, or in retaliation for exercising their employee rights, a Georgia employee may have a legal claim against the employer. For discriminatory purposes, Georgia employers cannot discriminate based on race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, religion, disability, age, marital status, AIDS/HIV, or sickle cell trait.
What are the Grounds for Wrongful Termination?
Due to Georgia’s status as an at-will employment state, most wrongful termination claims are based on some sort of violation of law. The most common basis for a wrongful termination lawsuit in Georgia is illegal discrimination.
For example, it is illegal for an employer to fire a worker simply because of a physical characteristic. Workers cannot be fired because they are of a certain nationality, race, religion, sex etc. Other examples of illegal termination include terminating the worker to avoid paying benefits or disability pay, or firing a worker for taking pregnancy leave.
You may consider reading this informative article about How to file a wrongful termination suit
What If My Employment Contract was Breached?
On the other hand, employment contracts are allowed in Georgia. Violations of an employment contract can also lead to a wrongful termination or wrongful discharge claim. For example, if the contract clearly indicates a certain date for termination, and the employer terminates the worker before the date without good reason, this could be considered wrongful termination.
Wrongful termination can also be based on an implied contract, such as when an employee reasonably relies on termination policies presented in an employee handbook or procedures the employer implemented while firing other workers within the company. Although no formal contract exists, the fired employee can sometimes recover under a "quantum meruit" theory, wherein the worker receives compensation for their services rendered.
What are Public Policy Violations?
Like many other states, Georgia wrongful termination or wrongful discharge may be based on a public policy violation. That is, even if the employment is considered to be at-will, an employer may not terminate the employee if the firing violates public policy principles. Some examples include:
- Firing an employee because she refuses to commit a crime.
- Firing an employee because she obeyed the law.
- Firing an employee if an existing law forbids the firing (for example, firing a worker based on discrimination, harassment, or violations of disability regulations).
What Are the Remedies for Wrongful Termination?
The state of Georgia allows a number of remedies for victims of wrongful termination. Some of these include reinstatement to the former job position, entitlement to back pay, and injunctive remedies (such as requiring the employer to enforce new termination policies). The additional remedies for wrongful discharge or wrongful termination will depend on the particular harm that the plaintiff suffered.
For example, the employee victim may: be reinstated back to their normal work title, obtain recovery of lost benefits, or obtain back pay for lost wages. Depending on the severity of the claim, the employer may also be required to pay additional damages such as stress/suffering damages, punitive damages, and legal fees such as attorney fees and court costs.
Should I Consult an Attorney?
A qualified Georgia lawyer can help you determine whether there is a legal basis for a claim. He can help you file all the necessary court papers, represent you in court, and even help you obtain the appropriate remedy.