Understanding Wrongful Termination Laws: A Guide for Employees and Employers

Wrongful termination is becoming a more and more common issue that employees face in today’s workforce. But what exactly constitutes wrongful termination, and how can you prove it if you think you’ve been wrongfully terminated? This comprehensive guide will explain everything you need to know about wrongful termination – from its legal definition, to examples, to how an experienced wrongful termination lawyer can help you understand your rights.

What is wrongful termination?

Wrongful termination occurs when an employer fires an employee for an illegal or unjustified reason that violates the employee’s legal rights. There are several situations that may constitute wrongful termination and provide grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Examples of wrongful termination

There are several common scenarios that could potentially lead to a wrongful termination claim. Some key examples include:

1. Breach of contract

If an employee has an employment contract or the employer made clear promises of continued employment, firing that employee may breach the contract and amount to wrongful termination. For example, if an employer fires a worker who had a contract for 2 years of employment without cause, that likely constitutes wrongful termination.

2. Discrimination

Federal laws enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission protect employees from termination based on certain protected characteristics like race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetic information. Many state laws provide additional protections against termination for reasons like sexual orientation, marital status or military service. Firing an employee for a discriminatory reason is illegal and can provide grounds for a wrongful termination claim.

3. Retaliation

Both federal and state laws protect employees who report illegal activities, harassment or discrimination in the workplace. An employer cannot legally fire an employee in retaliation for whistleblowing, filing a complaint, participating in an investigation, requesting reasonable accommodations for a disability, taking medical leave or engaging in other protected activities. Retaliatory termination may violate both federal statutes and state wrongful discharge laws.

4. Harassment

Sexual harassment by a supervisor or hostile work environment harassment based on race, gender or other protected classes can constitute grounds for a wrongful termination suit if the employee is fired after complaining about the harassment. The firing may qualify as retaliatory termination or discrimination in such cases.

5. Violation of public policy

Some state laws recognize a public policy exception to at-will employment. This means an employer may not terminate an employee for reasons that violate an important public policy, even if no federal or state statute is violated. Examples include firing an employee for serving on jury duty, voting, or refusing to commit an illegal act. A wrongful discharge suit may succeed in these cases if the termination violates a clear mandate of public policy.

At-Will Employment and Its Limitations

Many workers in the United States are considered “at-will employees.” This means the employment is “at-will” and the employer can fire the worker for any reason or no reason at all, with no advance notice.

However, there are still limitations on when an employer can fire an at-will employee. An at-will employer still may not fire a worker for an illegal discriminatory reason, in retaliation for protected activities, or in violation of an employment contract. So at-will workers can still potentially have grounds for a wrongful termination claim if the firing was unlawful.

Wrongful Termination Lawsuits: When Should You File One?

If you believe you were wrongfully terminated, how do you know if you should take legal action against your employer? There are a few key factors to consider:

  • Do you have evidence that your firing violated employment laws or breached an employment agreement? This is crucial for proving wrongful termination.
  • How soon after the incident can you file a claim? There are strict deadlines, often just 180 days for discrimination.
  • Were you fired for an illegal reason like discrimination, retaliation, harassment, or violation of whistleblower protections? If so, you may have a strong case. Consult a wrongful termination attorney.
  • Can you prove you suffered quantifiable damages from the termination, like lost wages or emotional distress? The more evidence of damages, the stronger the case.

If your firing seems potentially unlawful or wrongful based on these criteria, reach out to an experienced employment lawyer to discuss your case right away. They can help determine if you have grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit against your employer and walk you through the process.

How can you prove wrongful termination occurred?

Proving wrongful termination requires showing:

  • There was an employment relationship.
  • The employer terminated that relationship.
  • The termination violated the employee’s legal protections under state/federal law or an employment contract.

Some key evidence that can prove wrongful termination includes:

  • Employment agreements, handbooks showing disciplinary policies, and any other documentation showing implied promises by the employer.
  • Witness testimony about verbal agreements or promises made by management regarding job security.
  • Documentation of any disciplinary issues, performance reviews, or prior warnings given to the employee.
  • Comparative evidence showing the employee was treated differently than those with similar performance issues.
  • Proof of membership in a protected class if discrimination was a factor.
  • Evidence the employee engaged in legally protected activities known to the employer.
  • Proof the employee suffered financial harm from the termination.
  • Testimony or documentation about the employer’s actual motivations behind the termination decision.

An experienced employment attorney will know how to gather this evidence and build the strongest case possible to prove your termination was illegal.

Tips for Handling a Wrongful Termination

If you believe you have a wrongful termination claim, here are some tips:

  • Document everything. Get any evidence of discrimination, retaliation, harassment, or other misconduct in writing. Keep a paper trail.
  • File a complaint right away with the EEOC or other relevant government agency. There are strict deadlines.
  • Consult an attorney. An employment law attorney can assess your case and explain your options.
  • Calculate lost wages and other damages you incurred. This will strengthen your claim.
  • Negotiate a severance package if possible. Get post-termination compensation.
  • Mitigate damages by looking for a new job right away. This will reduce potential loss of wages.
  • Avoid venting frustrations about your employer publicly. Don’t post negatively online.
  • Take care of your mental health. Wrongful termination can be extremely stressful. Seek counseling if needed.

Getting fired can be devastating, especially if it was unlawful or unfair. With the right legal help, you may be able to fight back and get justice through a wrongful termination lawsuit. Consult a knowledgeable wrongful termination lawyer to protect your rights.

Should you hire a wrongful termination lawyer?

If you believe you have a case for wrongful termination, it’s highly advisable to consult with an employment lawyer as soon as possible. An attorney experienced in wrongful termination cases can:

  • Review the evidence and provide an honest assessment of your claim’s strength.
  • Advise you on the laws and procedures that apply to your specific case.
  • Determine what violations of state or federal law may have occurred.
  • Handle negotiations with your former employer to try to reach a fair settlement.
  • File a claim in court if necessary and represent you through the litigation process.
  • Calculate the damages you are owed and fight to maximize your compensation.
  • Help protect your reputation against any defamatory statements by your past employer.

Trying to fight a wrongful termination case on your own is an uphill battle. The law puts strict deadlines on taking legal action, so consult a knowledgeable attorney right away if you think you have a wrongful termination claim. They can protect your rights and make sure your former employer is held accountable.

The Bottom Line

Getting fired unfairly can be devastating, but the law provides protections for employees wrongfully terminated. Review the information here to better understand what constitutes wrongful termination, what laws apply, and how an experienced lawyer can help prove your case. No employee should have to suffer the career damage and financial hardship of an illegal firing – fight back by learning your rights and exploring your legal options today.