Similar to the definition applied in the majority of other states, Michigan labor laws generally define “wrongful termination” as the termination of one or more employees for reasons that are either illegal or unauthorized. This means that despite the fact that the state of Michigan follows the conditions of “at-will” employment, its labor laws provide some exceptions to this standard method of employment in the United States.

Briefly, at-will employment refers to the freedom to leave a job or terminate an employee at any time and for any reason except for those deemed to be discriminatory and unlawful. Some examples of situations that may constitute wrongful termination and therefore violate state labor laws include:

  • If a Michigan employer terminates an employee in a way that breaches the terms of an employment contract and/or the company’s termination policies and procedures;
  • When the grounds for why a Michigan employer fires an employee go against standards of public policy; or
  • If a Michigan employer terminates an employee for a reason that would violate federal law or Michigan state and local laws.

These concepts will be discussed in further detail in the next section. Aside from the motive behind a firing, some other factors that may affect a claim for wrongful termination in the state of Michigan include:

  • Whether a worker was hired as an independent contractor or as an at-will employee;
  • The type of contract a worker has with an employer if any (e.g., a standard employment contract, a collective bargaining agreement, no contract, etc.); and
  • Whether there are any special provisions in a contract that specify termination procedures, the duration of employment, unjust discharge terms, and so forth.

To learn more about what constitutes wrongful termination in Michigan, you should contact a local employment lawyer for advice that is specific to your matter.

What Are the Grounds for Wrongful Termination?

As previously mentioned, the grounds for wrongful termination in Michigan depend upon several exceptions provided in both federal and state labor laws. Specifically, Michigan at-will employment laws carve out explicit exclusions for when a termination will be deemed as wrongful or unlawful.

For instance, under normal circumstances, Michigan at-will employment laws protect employers from liability by permitting them to terminate at-will employees for almost any reason and at any time during their employment, so long as the reason is legal under federal and state labor laws. 

However, Michigan at-will employment laws also dually serve to protect at-will employees from wrongful termination and from liability by allowing employees to quit their job for almost any reason, at any point in their employment period (subject to exceptions like two-week notice provisions). The exceptions provided in Michigan-at will employment laws are what protect employees from unlawful or wrongful termination. 

In general, an employer in Michigan may be sued for wrongful termination if they fire an at-will employee based on any of the following exceptions:

  • Violation of public policy: If a Michigan employer terminates an at-will employee for refusing to perform an illegal task or for reporting unsafe working conditions, then an at-will employee can most likely sue their employee for wrongful termination because their actions violated standard public policy.
  • Breach of contract: Michigan considers both written and oral contracts to be binding on the contracting parties. Thus, if an employer breaches the terms of an employment contract or a collective bargain agreement when terminating an employee, then it may be grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit.
  • In retaliation: Under both Michigan and federal labor laws, a worker cannot be terminated for participating in certain acts that are protected by such laws, including whistleblowing activities, reporting an employer to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) for unlawful conduct, or protesting against an employer during a worker’s free time. 

    • A Michigan employer also cannot fire an at-will employee for filing a workers’ compensation claim if they were injured on the job. 
  • Employment discrimination: Similar to wrongful termination lawsuits brought under federal labor laws, an employee cannot be terminated for discriminatory purposes, such as because of an employee’s race, sex, gender identity, national origin, height, color, religious affiliation, disability, weight, marital status, and/or for any other reason that involves a protected class of persons under Michigan state labor laws.

What Are the Remedies for Wrongful Termination?

In response to a situation involving unlawful employment termination, an employee may be able to file a lawsuit against their employer and recover several legal remedies if they prevail in the case. Some legal remedies that an employee can potentially recover in such instances include:

  • Compensatory damages;
  • Liquidated damages;
  • Punitive damages;
  • Back or front pay (in certain situations);
  • Emotional damages (subject to exceptions);
  • Reinstatement to their former position; 
  • An injunction; and/or
  • A court-order to amend company termination policies and procedures.

Additionally, depending on the facts of a case, an employee may also be able to recoup court costs and attorney fees.

What Are the Steps to Sue for Wrongful Termination in Michigan?

Depending on the type of wrongful termination claim that an at-will employee is filing in Michigan, there may be different requirements. For instance, an employee must file a complaint with either the Michigan Department of Civil Rights Commission or with the Michigan Department of Labor’s Occupational, Safety, and Health Administration before they can take the issue to court. For the latter, the complaint must be filed within thirty days.

Complaints can typically be filed at a state agency either in person, over the phone, or by a link supplied on a particular state agency’s website. In general, an agency will review the complaint, open an investigation into the employer’s actions, and issue a decision once the investigation has ended.

If the at-will employee is not satisfied with the results of a state agency’s findings or resolution, then they may proceed to pursue the issue in a court of law. Again, only after an agency reviews their wrongful termination claim will the employee be able to file a lawsuit. Additionally, there are some exceptions to this general rule that a Michigan employment lawyer will be able to provide further advice on.

Do I Have a Wrongful Termination Claim in Michigan?

In general, claims for wrongful termination can be very difficult to prove regardless of where a lawsuit is filed. This is partly because there are no strict elements of proof in Michigan per se for determining whether a termination is wrongful or not. Rather, such claims depend on whether the employee has strong enough evidence to support the following two factors:

  • First, that they are in fact an at-will employee; and
  • Second, that their employer’s motivation or intent in firing them was based on a reason that is unauthorized or illegal under Michigan employment laws.

The first prong is typically easier to prove than the second. The second will require solid evidence that clearly demonstrates that the employer’s motive was illegal or discriminatory. This can be hard to prove without a claim devolving into a “pointing of fingers” argument (i.e., a he said, she-said, they-said scenario). Thus, the outcome of a wrongful determination lawsuit will rely heavily on the facts of each individual case. 

Should I Consult a Michigan Employment Lawyer for My Wrongful Termination Lawsuit?

As discussed above, claims for wrongful termination tend to address a broad range of legal issues within a single case, meaning that these lawsuits often will require extensive knowledge of various state and federal labor laws. 

Wrongful termination lawsuits may also involve complex legal procedures, which can sometimes be difficult to navigate without the guidance of a legal professional. Therefore, if you need to file a claim for wrongful termination, then it may be in your best interest to hire a Michigan employment lawyer for further assistance with your workplace matter.

A Michigan lawyer who has experience in handling cases involving wrongful termination issues will be able to review the facts of your situation and can determine if you have a viable claim. Your lawyer can also inform you of the potential consequences of filing a lawsuit for wrongful termination, as well as the possible remedies you may be able to recover if you win the case. 

In addition, your lawyer can advise you on the relevant laws and the necessary procedural requirements that you must comply with in Michigan state. Lastly, among many other legal services, your lawyer can also represent you during any proceedings that you need to attend in Michigan state, such as a hearing in court or a settlement conference.