Wrongful Termination Explained: What You Need to Know
When you’re fired from your job, it can be a stressful and confusing experience. If you believe your termination was illegal, you may be able to take legal action against your employer. This is called wrongful termination, and it’s important to understand your rights and options. Fortunately, there are legal protections in place to help you fight back against unfair treatment in the workplace. In this article, we’ll explain what wrongful termination is, what types of terminations are illegal, and what steps you can take if you’ve been wrongfully terminated.
What is Wrongful Termination?
Wrongful termination occurs when an employer unlawfully fires an employee. This can happen for a variety of reasons, including discrimination, retaliation, breach of contract, or violation of public policy.
Discrimination can involve terminating an employee based on their age, race, gender, religion, national origin, or disability. Retaliation can occur when an employer fires an employee for engaging in protected activities such as reporting discrimination or harassment. Breach of contract occurs when an employer terminates an employee in violation of an employment contract. Violation of public policy occurs when an employer terminates an employee for refusing to engage in illegal activity.
Types of Wrongful Termination
Discrimination: Discrimination is the most common type of wrongful termination. It occurs when an employee is fired based on their race, gender, age, religion, or disability. Employers are prohibited by law from terminating employees based on these protected characteristics. If an employee is terminated due to discrimination, they may be able to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or file a lawsuit against their employer.
Retaliation: Retaliation occurs when an employee is fired in retaliation for reporting discrimination or other illegal behavior. For example, if an employee reports sexual harassment or discrimination, and is then fired shortly after, this could be considered retaliation. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who report illegal behavior or participate in investigations related to such behavior.
Breach of Contract: If an employer fires an employee in violation of a written or implied employment agreement, it is considered a breach of contract. For example, if an employer terminates an employee before the end of a fixed-term contract without cause, it could be a breach of contract. Employees may be entitled to damages if their employer breaches a contract.
Public Policy Violations: Public policy violations occur when an employee is fired for engaging in protected activity, such as reporting illegal behavior or refusing to engage in illegal activity. For example, an employee who is fired for reporting that their employer is engaging in fraudulent activity is protected under public policy. Employees who are terminated for engaging in protected activity may be able to file a complaint or lawsuit against their employer.
Wrongful Termination – Discrimination
Discrimination refers to the unfair treatment of an individual or a group of people based on their membership in a particular group or category, such as race, gender, age, religion, national origin, or disability. Discrimination can occur in various settings, including employment, education, housing, and public accommodations.
One example of discrimination in the workplace is when an employer refuses to hire or promote an individual because of their race, gender, or age, even though the individual is qualified for the position. Another example is when an employer pays lower wages to employees who belong to a certain racial or ethnic group, or when an employee is subjected to derogatory comments or harassment based on their gender or sexual orientation.
Discrimination can also occur in housing, such as when a landlord refuses to rent a property to an individual because of their race, religion, or national origin. Similarly, discrimination can occur in public accommodations, such as when a business refuses to serve or accommodate a customer based on their disability.
It’s important to note that discrimination can take various forms, including overt and subtle forms, and it can be intentional or unintentional. Regardless of its form, discrimination is illegal and can have serious consequences for the victims and the individuals or organizations responsible for perpetrating it.
Wrongful Termination – Retaliation
Retaliation is a form of workplace discrimination that occurs when an employer takes adverse action against an employee for engaging in protected activity, such as reporting discrimination or harassment, participating in an investigation, or filing a complaint or lawsuit.
For example, if an employee reports sexual harassment to their supervisor and then is demoted or fired shortly afterward, it may be considered retaliation. Similarly, if an employee files a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and then experiences negative consequences such as being denied a promotion or being subjected to increased scrutiny or discipline, this could also be retaliation.
Retaliation can take many forms, including termination, demotion, harassment, reduced hours, pay cuts, negative performance evaluations, and denial of promotions or benefits. It’s important to note that retaliation is illegal and prohibited under federal and state laws. Employers who engage in retaliation can face legal consequences, including fines and other penalties.
Employees who believe that they have experienced retaliation should document any instances of adverse action and seek the advice of an experienced employment law attorney. An attorney can evaluate the circumstances of the case, determine whether the employee has a viable claim, and advise the employee on the best course of action.
Wrongful Termination – Breach of Contract
Breach of contract refers to a situation where one party fails to fulfill their obligations under a legally binding agreement. A contract is a legal document that sets out the terms and conditions of an agreement between two or more parties, and breach of contract occurs when one party fails to perform their part of the agreement without a valid legal excuse.
An example of breach of contract in the employment context is when an employer fails to pay an employee their agreed-upon salary or benefits, or when they terminate an employee without cause before the end of their employment contract. Another example is when an employee fails to perform their duties as outlined in their employment contract, such as failing to show up to work or not meeting performance expectations.
Breach of contract can also occur in other contexts, such as when a vendor fails to deliver goods or services as specified in a contract, or when a tenant fails to pay rent or damages a rental property.
When a breach of contract occurs, the non-breaching party may be entitled to legal remedies, such as damages or specific performance. Damages are monetary compensation awarded to the non-breaching party to compensate them for their losses resulting from the breach, while specific performance refers to a court order requiring the breaching party to perform their obligations under the contract.
Wrongful Termination – Public Policy Violations
Public policy violations occur when an employee is fired for engaging in protected activity, such as reporting illegal behavior or refusing to engage in illegal activity. This type of wrongful termination is based on the idea that the public has an interest in encouraging certain behaviors, and employees who engage in those behaviors should be protected from retaliation by their employers.
Examples of protected activity under public policy include:
Reporting Illegal Behavior: Employees who report illegal behavior by their employer are protected under public policy. This can include reporting fraud, safety violations, or other illegal activity. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who report such behavior.
Refusing to Engage in Illegal Activity: Employees who refuse to engage in illegal activity are also protected under public policy. For example, if an employer asks an employee to falsify records or engage in some other illegal activity, and the employee refuses, the employer cannot retaliate against them.
Taking Leave for Protected Reasons: Employees who take leave for protected reasons, such as to care for a sick family member or to serve in the military, are also protected under public policy. Employers are prohibited from terminating employees who take leave for protected reasons.
Whistleblowing: Employees who blow the whistle on their employer for illegal or unethical practices are protected under public policy. Whistleblowers are protected from retaliation under various laws, including the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
If an employee is terminated for engaging in protected activity under public policy, they may be able to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or file a lawsuit against their employer. In addition to reinstatement or back pay, employees who prevail in a wrongful termination lawsuit based on public policy violations may be entitled to damages for emotional distress, punitive damages, and attorney fees.
Legal Remedies for Wrongful Termination
Employees who have been wrongfully terminated may be entitled to legal remedies such as reinstatement, back pay, front pay, and compensatory damages. Reinstatement involves returning the employee to their former position. Back pay is compensation for lost wages and benefits from the date of termination to the date of reinstatement. Front pay is compensation for lost wages and benefits from the date of reinstatement to the date of judgment. Compensatory damages are compensation for emotional distress, pain and suffering, and other non-economic losses.
Pursuing a Claim for Wrongful Termination
If you believe that you were wrongfully terminated, the first step is to speak with an experienced employment law attorney. Your attorney can evaluate the circumstances of your termination, determine whether there is a viable claim, and advise you on the best course of action. Depending on the circumstances, your attorney may recommend filing a complaint with a government agency such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or pursuing a lawsuit in court.
If you believe that you have been wrongfully terminated from your job, there are several steps that you can take to pursue a claim for wrongful termination:
Review your employment contract: Start by reviewing your employment contract to determine whether there are any provisions related to termination. This can help you determine whether your employer had the right to terminate your employment, and whether you have a viable claim for wrongful termination.
Gather evidence: Collect any evidence that supports your claim of wrongful termination, such as emails, performance evaluations, or witness statements. This evidence can help demonstrate that your termination was unjustified and violated employment laws. If you believe that you were wrongfully terminated, it’s important to document everything related to your employment and termination. This includes emails, text messages, performance reviews, disciplinary actions, and any other relevant documentation. This documentation can be used as evidence in a legal claim for wrongful termination.
File a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): If you believe that your termination was based on discrimination or retaliation, you may want to file a complaint with the EEOC. The EEOC is responsible for investigating claims of employment discrimination and can help you determine whether you have a viable claim for wrongful termination.
Consult with an employment law attorney: An experienced employment law attorney can help you evaluate your case, determine your legal options, and provide guidance on how to proceed. They can also help you negotiate with your employer or represent you in court if necessary.
Consider alternative dispute resolution: In some cases, it may be possible to resolve a claim for wrongful termination through mediation or arbitration. These alternative dispute resolution methods can be less expensive and less time-consuming than going to court.
File a lawsuit: If all other attempts to resolve the issue have failed, you may need to file a lawsuit against your employer. Your attorney can help you file the necessary paperwork and represent you in court.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the statute of limitations for filing a claim for wrongful termination? The statute of limitations for filing a claim for wrongful termination varies depending on the state and the type of claim. In California, for example, employees generally have three years to file a claim for wrongful termination based on discrimination.
Can I be terminated for any reason? In most states, employment is considered “at-will,” which means that an employer can terminate an employee for any reason as long as it is not an illegal reason such as discrimination or retaliation.
How do I know if I have a claim for wrongful termination? If you believe that you were terminated for an illegal reason such as discrimination or retaliation, you may have a claim for wrongful termination. Speaking with an employment law attorney can help you determine whether you have a viable claim.
Can I be terminated for reporting illegal activity? No, it is illegal for an employer to terminate an employee for reporting illegal activity. This is known as whistleblowing and is protected by law.
What should I do if I believe that I was wrongfully terminated? If you believe that you were wrongfully terminated, the first step is to speak with an experienced employment law attorney. Your attorney can evaluate the circumstances of your termination, determine whether there is a viable claim, and advise you on the best course of action.
Wrongful termination can be a difficult and stressful experience for employees. However, it’s important to understand your rights and legal options if you believe that you were wrongfully terminated. By speaking with an experienced employment law attorney and documenting everything related to your employment and termination, you may be able to pursue legal remedies such as reinstatement, back pay, front pay, and compensatory damages. Don’t let a wrongful termination go unchallenged, and remember to stand up for your legal rights.
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|Equal Employment Opportunity Commission||https://www.eeoc.gov/|
|National Employment Lawyers Association||https://www.nela.org/|
|American Bar Association – Labor and Employment Law Section||https://www.americanbar.org/groups/labor_law/|
Note: The URLs are hyperlinked in the table above for easy access.