Michigan is an “at-will” employment state. This means that absent an employment contract, both the employer and employee are free to terminate the employment at any given time, and for any legitimate purpose. Hence, it may be difficult to file a wrongful termination or wrongful discharge claim if your employment is considered to be at-will.
There are some exceptions to the at-will rule. For example, if a Michigan employer fires an employee for discriminatory reasons, a breach of employment contract, or in retaliation for exercising their employee rights, a Michigan employee may have a legal claim against the employer. For discriminatory purposes, Michigan employers cannot discriminate based on race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, religion, disability, age, marital status, AIDS/HIV, or sickle cell trait
Under federal law, employers cannot fire an employee based on a protected characteristic such as race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, religion, age, disability, and citizenship status.
What are the Grounds for Wrongful Termination?
On the other hand, Michigan has implemented several pieces of legislation that makes at-will terminations more difficult. These statutes and laws protect employees by providing exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine such that employers cannot violate employment contracts or fire employees in retaliation. Even if your employment is considered to be at-will, you may be able to file for wrongful termination if any of the following exceptions apply to your situation:
- Written Contracts: Any written contracts that cover employment and termination will be considered according to both contract law and employment law. Generally, the written contract will govern the terms of the employment and the employment will not be considered “at-will.” Violations of contract terms may form the basis of a wrongful discharge lawsuit.
- Oral Promises: Michigan will also consider whether your employer made any oral promises regarding your termination procedures. For example, if they told you that they would not fire you within the next six months, and you relied on this promise to your detriment, it may be considered wrongful termination. However, the oral promise exception is very difficult to prove and will be subject to rigorous analysis in court.
- Public Policy Violations: Employers in Michigan may not terminate at-will employees if the termination violates public policy. Examples of public policy violation include firing an employee in retaliation for reporting health and safety violations or for firing an employee who refuses to commit an illegal act.
- “Legitimate Expectations”: If your employer has created an environment that causes an employee to believe that certain practices are applicable to all employees, this may create a “legitimate expectation” in the mind of the employee. For example, language contained in an employee handbook can cause an employee to reasonably expect their employer to follow certain termination procedures.
You may consider reading this informative article about How to file a wrongful termination suit.
What are the Remedies for Wrongful Termination?
A successful wrongful termination claim can result in several favorable remedies for the employee, including recovering back pay, reinstating one’s job position, and other types of damages. The remedies for wrongful discharge or wrongful termination in Michigan 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.
Do I Have a Wrongful Termination Claim in Michigan?
Wrongful termination claims in Michigan depend on whether all of the facts that led to the termination would create a wrongful termination. If the employer’s motivation in firing the employee was unlawful, then the employee may bring a wrongful termination claim even if the employee is an at-will employee.
Should I Consult an Attorney?
A qualified Michigan lawyer can help determine whether there is a legal basis for a claim. He can help you navigate the legal system, represent you in court, and help you obtain the damages you deserve.