Georgia Wrongful Termination

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 What Is Wrongful Termination in Georgia?

Illegally firing an employee is considered wrongful termination. Most employees in the United States are what is known as “at-will” employees. This means that the employee can leave their job at any time for any reason, or for no reason at all. Similarly, their employer can legally terminate their employment at any time for any reason (as long as it’s not an illegal reason), or for no reason at all.

There are laws in place that protect employees from being terminated for an illegal reason. It is illegal for an employer to terminate an employee on the basis of:

  • Retaliation for filing a complaint or grievance against the employer or a fellow employee, including retaliation for reporting sexual harassment;
  • Discrimination based on the employee belonging to a class protected by state or federal law. Employees are protected from a termination that is based on their age, race, national origin, religious beliefs, gender, disability, pregnancy, or sexual orientation;
  • As punishment for attempting to organize or participate in a union;
  • To deter other employees from filing for worker’s compensation benefits; or
  • A violation of public policy

Wrongful termination laws can vary slightly depending on the state you are in.

What Is Wrongful Termination in Georgia?

Like most states, employment in Georgia is considered to be at-will. Georgia labor laws regarding termination prohibit an employer from terminating an employee for the reasons stated above. 

An employee in Georgia who is terminated for an illegal reason has standing to sue their employer for wrongful termination. 

What Are the Grounds for Wrongful Termination in Georgia?

As is the case in many states, a majority of claims for unlawful termination in Georgia are based on allegations of discrimation. An employee who believes they have been terminated for a discriminatory reason will have to present proof that their termination was based on their belonging to a protected class and not some other legitimate reason. 

What If the Termination Breached My Employment Contract?

While most Georgia employment is at-will, employment contracts are allowed. Entering into an employment contract is beneficial because the contract adds more specific protections for both the employer and the employee. Violating the terms of an employment contract can also lead to a wrongful termination or wrongful discharge claim. 

For example, an employment contract will often specify a certain period of notice that must be provided to the employee before they are terminated. If the employer disregards that provision of the contract and fails to provide the employee with the required notice before terminating them without good reason, the employer can be sued for wrongful termination. 

It can also be considered wrongful termination if an employer terminates an employee in violation of an implied contract or another similar agreement. This could occur if an employee handbook outlines termination policies and the employee is terminated not in accordance with the policy. Even though the employee did not enter into an employment contract outlining the policy, the employee had the right to reasonably rely on the information contained in the employee handbook. 

What Are Public Policy Violations?

One of the illegal reasons for termination listed above was public policy violation. Public policy is the set of principles that social norms are based upon. The idea that someone should not be punished for exercising a legal right is an example of public policy. 

Public policy is usually unwritten, but is based on ideas that most people can agree upon, therefore a termination can be considered wrongful if it goes against the general principles of public policy. A Georgia employee who is terminated in violation of public policy has a wrongful termination claim, whether their employment was at-will or governed by an employment contract.

A few examples of terminations that would violate public policy include:

  • Firing an employee for exercising their legal rights;
  • Firing an employee who has refused to do commit a crime or an illegal act (e.g. refusing to falsify reports or submit a fraudulent company tax document); or
  • Firing an employee because they reported illegal misconduct that they observed in the company or business (what is commonly referred to as “whistleblowing”).

What Are the Remedies for Wrongful Termination in Georgia?

Georgia employment termination laws allow several different remedies for employees that successfully prove that they are a victim of wrongful termination. Remedies may include:

  • Reinstatement to the employee’s former job position; 
  • Entitlement to back pay for wages lost since the date of termination; 
  • Injunctive remedies: An injunction is a court order that instructs a party to do (or not do) specific things. The Court is able to coerce the subject of an injunction into complying with the injunctions by providing criminal or civil penalties if they do not comply. An injunction issued in a wrongful termination case might require an employer to enforce new policies; 
  • Compensation for the value of any benefits lost as a result of the wrongful termination, such as health insurance;
  • Attorneys’ fees and costs;
  • Pain and suffering: In extreme cases, a wrongfully terminated employee may be compensated for the mental stress, suffering, and turmoil resulting from the termination; or
  • Punitive damages: These are meant to punish the employer and will likely only be ordered if the employer’s actions are particularly intolerable. 

There is a cap on the amount of damages an employee can receive as compensation for a wrongful termination. The cap is put in place by federal law and the maximum amount depends on the size of the employer. For example, an employer with between 15 and 100 employees can only be ordered to pay $50,000 in damages, whereas an employer that has 500 or more employees can be ordered to pay $300,000.

Remedies are slightly different in the event that an employee with an employment contract was wrongfully terminated. The damages will depend on the terms of the contract. For example, an employee may have a 3 year employment contract that promises $50,000 per year. If that employee is terminated without good cause after only 2 years, then they will be entitled to receive the additional $50,000 that they would have earned if they had continued to work through year 3. Cases where an employment contract was breached do not entitle the wrongfully terminated employee to receive pain and suffering or punitive damages.

Do I Need to Hire a Georgia Attorney If I’m Facing Any Wrongful Termination Issues?

In order to secure a wrongful termination settlement in Georgia, legal action must be taken. At times an employer will opt to settle with the employee in lieu of a trial and continued legal expenses, while other times the outcome will be decided by the Court.

Wrongful termination laws can be difficult to navigate for someone not trained as an attorney. A qualified Georgia wrongful termination lawyer  can help you determine whether you have the basis for a strong wrongful termination suit against your former employer. The attorney will know the ins and outs of Georgia wrongful termination laws and will take care of filing all the necessary court papers. Should your case go to trial, your attorney will  represent you in court, and help make sure that you obtain a fair and appropriate remedy.


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