Wrongful termination, also referred to as unlawful termination, is a concept in employment law that occurs when an employer terminates an employee for an illegal reason, including reasons that:
- Violate federal, state, or local laws;
- Go against public policy;
- Breach the terms of the employment agreement.
Wrongful termination may also occur when an employer terminates an employee who refuses to obey illegal work instructions. Illegal work instructions may include requesting an employee to skirt safety regulations for specific job tasks or requesting that they commit a more serious crime, such as larceny, a felony offense.
Another way an employee may be terminated unlawfully is when their employer ignores their company policies regarding the process for termination. This may occur, for example, when the employer fails to follow the proper protocols when the employee is released from their position.
If an employer terminates an employee for a reason that is unlawful, they may face legal consequences for their actions. For example, an employer may be required to compensate the employee in one or more of the following ways:
- Reimbursing the employee in back pay;
- Reinstating the employee to their prior position;
- Paying the employee monetary compensation;
- Various other forms of relief.
Texas employment law also prevents an employer from firing an employee based on a protected characteristic, such as:
- National origin;
- Disability; or
- Citizenship status.
Most employment situations are classified as at-will employment. This means that an employee is hired for an unspecified amount of time, during which their employer can terminate them at any time and without cause.
Without cause means that the employee can be terminated for no reason or for any reason, so long as that reason is not illegal. The requirements vary by state, but there are some general reasons that are not accepted as proper grounds for terminating employees, including:
The at-will employment laws in Texas are similar to those in other states. The majority of employment is considered to be at-will. This means that an individual’s employer may terminate them for any reason, no matter how arbitrary or irrational, or even for no reason at all.
The termination of an employee may occur at any time and for any legitimate purpose. Because of these issues, it may be difficult to prove wrongful termination.
It is important to note that the protected characteristics for employees are found in federal law, which means that they also apply in Texas. If an individual has any questions about wrongful termination in Texas, they should consult with a local Texas attorney.
What if My Employer Breached the Employment Contract?
If an individual has signed a written employment contract that promises them a position or job security, they are not considered to be an at-will employee. Employees can avoid being terminated for no reason in the State of Texas if they have an implied employment contract.
An implied employment contract may be formed based on clear statements that were made by their employer that they have a secured position and cannot be fired for just any reason. For example, if the employee handbook provides that employees will only be terminated for good cause, the employees of that business may have an implied contract.
If an individual has a written employment contract and their employer terminates them without good cause, they have a claim for breach of contract.
What Is the Illegal Act Exception?
Similar to other states, Texas employers are not always permitted to terminate employees for any reason. There are some exceptions to the at-will employee termination rule.
In Texas, a public employee may only sue for wrongful termination if they are terminated for refusing to perform an illegal act. An illegal act is any act that would create criminal liability under Texas laws or under the laws of the United States.
It is important to note that an employee who refuses to violate a statute that would only create civil liability will not be covered by this exception. In the State of Texas, there is no cause of action for wrongful termination when a private employee reports an employer’s illegal activity and is terminated for that reason.
However, there are these types of protections for Texas government employees.
What Is the Workers’ Compensation Exception?
Texas employers are not permitted to terminate employees for making workers’ compensation claims. The terminated employee would be required to show that their worker’s compensation claim was a necessary precursor to their termination.
In other words, the employee has to show that they would not have been terminated if they had not made the worker’s compensation claim.
Do I Have a Wrongful Termination Claim in Texas?
Whether a worker has a wrongful termination claim in Texas will depend on whether all of the facts that led to their termination would create the basis for a wrongful termination claim. The employer’s motivation in terminating the employee might have been unlawful. If that is the case, that employee may be able to bring a wrongful termination claim, even if they were considered to be an at-will employee.
It can be difficult to determine whether or not an individual has a worker’s compensation claim. It is important for a worker to consult with a Texas lawyer to determine whether or not they may have a claim.
How Do I File for Wrongful Termination Claim?
Prior to filing a claim in Texas, an individual has to file a complaint with the appropriate Texas government agency. The Texas Workforce Commission enforces Texas laws that prohibit discrimination.
In most cases, the fair employment practices agency in a state will record the complaint that the individual filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC will then investigate the individual’s allegations.
The EEOC investigation may result in a remedy for the employee, for example, requiring an employer to review their hiring and firing policies. If the remedy proposed is not sufficient to remedy the issue, the EEOC will issue the worker a Right to Sue letter.
An individual has 90 days from receiving their Right to Sue letter to sue their former employer. The most common remedy that is awarded in these cases is monetary damages.
The amount of monetary compensation that an individual will receive depends on the facts of the case and the laws of the jurisdiction. It is important to note that there is a statute of limitations that applies to wrongful termination claims in Texas. This is a time limit during which the individual must file their claim. For most claims, the statute of limitations is 180 days from the date of the employee’s termination.
In certain cases, that time limit may be extended to 300 days. Due to this time limitation, it is important for a terminated employee to act as quickly as they can to file their claim.
It is also important for the terminated employee to keep any documents that are relevant to their claim. In the majority of situations, a lawsuit has to be filed within two years.
What Is the Average Settlement for Wrongful Termination?
In Texas, the average wrongful termination settlement ranges between $5,000 and $100,000. The amount will, of course, depend on the facts and circumstances of each unique case.
Should I Consult a Texas Attorney?
If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated in Texas, it is essential to consult with a Texas wrongful termination lawyer. This is a complex area of law, and these types of cases can be difficult to prove in court.
Your lawyer will review your claim, help you file your complaint with the proper agency, and represent you during a lawsuit if required. Having a lawyer on your case may mean the difference between losing your job and receiving the compensation you are due.