Wrongful termination generally refers to situations where an employee is fired or terminated from their position in a way that violates the law. This can involve a wide range of situations and contexts for an employer and their employees. When determining whether a termination is wrongful or not, it is first necessary to consider a person’s employment status.
In the state of Georgia, employment is presumed to be classified as an “at-will” status when no contract exists between the employer and employee. At-will employment arrangements allow either the employer or employee to terminate or end the work relationship at any given time.
Under at-will employment arrangements, the termination may be done for any stated reason, so long as the reason is not illegal under federal law or Georgia state laws. Thus, because each party has so much discretion when terminating the relationship, at-will employment in Georgia can make wrongful termination suits very complicated.
There may be some exceptions to the at-will rule. For example, if a Georgia employer fires certain reasons, then a Georgia employee may have a legal claim against the employer. These can include reasons like:
- Firing an employee based on discrmination (for instance, firing them solely based on race or other factors);
- Breach of employment contract; and
- Firing an employee out of retaliation for filing a report against the company, or for otherwise exercising their rights as an employee.
Under employment discrimination laws, Georgia employers are not allowed to discriminate based on race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, religion, disability, age, marital status, AIDS/HIV, or sickle cell trait.
On account of Georgia’s classification 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 that of illegal discrimination.
For example, it is illegal for an employer in the state of Georgia to fire a worker simply because of a physical characteristic such as their race or their sex. Workers cannot be terminated simply 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 a valid maternity leave or medical.
On the other hand, employment contracts are allowed in Georgia, and often encouraged, as they add more specific protections for both employers and employees. However, violations of an employment contract can also lead to a wrongful termination or wrongful discharge claim.
For example, suppose that the contract clearly indicates a certain date for termination, and this date is considered lawful under Georgia law. If the employer then terminates the worker before the date without good reason, this may be considered wrongful termination.
Wrongful termination can also be based on an implied contract or other similar agreements. An example of this is when an employee reasonably relies on termination policies presented in an employee handbook, or on procedures the employer implemented while firing other workers within the company.
Although a formal contract might not exist, the fired employee can sometimes recover under a “quantum meruit” theory. This means that the worker receives compensation for their services rendered.
As with many other states, Georgia wrongful termination or wrongful discharge may be based on a public policy violation. An employer may not terminate the employee if the firing violates public policy principles, even if the employment is an at-will arrangement.
Some examples of termination that may be against public policy may include:
- Firing an employee because they refuse to commit a crime (like helping their supervisor embezzle).
- Firing an employee because they obeyed the law.
- Firing an employee if an already-existing law forbids the firing (for example, firing a worker based on discrimination, harassment, or violations of disability regulations).
Georgia employment laws allow a number of remedies for victims of wrongful termination. Some of these remedies may include reinstatement to the employee’s former job position, entitlement to back pay, and injunctive remedies (such as requiring the employer to enforce new termination policies). Additional remedies for wrongful discharge or wrongful termination will depend on the particular harm or loss the plaintiff suffered.
Depending on the severity of the claim, the employer may also be required to pay additional damages such as stress/suffering damages, punitive damages, loss of future income, and legal fees such as attorney fees and court costs.
Georgia wrongful termination laws can be quite complex. A qualified Georgia employment lawyer can help you determine whether there is a legal basis for a claim. Your attorney can help you file all the necessary court papers, represent you in court, and even help you obtain the appropriate remedy.