What Is Wrongful Termination?
What is wrongful termination and do employees who have been fired have redress if they have been terminated from employment wrongfully? Wrongful termination takes place when an employee is let go from their job for illegal reasons or if company policy is violated when the employee is fired.
In many cases, unless there is a contract or bargaining agreement, employees accept a job offer at will, referred to as employment at will, meaning that neither the employer nor the employee needs a reason to terminate the relationship
Reasons Considered Wrongful Termination
An employee can be considered to have been wrongfully terminated if discrimination is involved in the termination, if public policy is violated, or if company policy states guidelines for termination and those guidelines were not followed.
Other reasons that could be construed as wrongful termination include being fired for being a whistleblower, complaining about workplace issues, or for not being willing to commit an illegal act when asked to by an employer.
Discrimination can be considered wrongful termination if an employee has been fired because of race, nationality, religion, gender, or age.
Wrongful Termination Reasons Protected by Law
- Breach of contract
- Constructive discharge
- Employee asked to commit an illegal act
- Company policy is violated
- Public policy is violated
Wrongful Termination Laws
There are no specific laws that provide protection for employees who have been wrongfully terminated from their job. Rather, wrongful termination may be covered by federal or state laws that prohibit employment discrimination, by contract law if your employer breached an employment agreement, or if the company violated its own policy by terminating the employee.
In addition, if an employee feels he or she was forced to leave a job because the employer made the job unbearable, he or she can file a wrongful termination suit against the former employer for constructive discharge.
However, in most states (other than Montana), employees are presumed to be employed at will, which means that an employee can be fired without notice and without a reason. So, unless an employee is covered by an employment contract or collective bargaining agreement or the law has been violated, an employer doesn't need a reason to fire you. Here is a list of exceptions to employment at will.
Employment Discrimination Laws
Employment discrimination happens when a job seeker or an employee is treated unfavorably because of his or her race, skin color, national origin, gender, disability, religion, or age. If an employee is terminated for a discriminatory reason, there may be a case for wrongful termination. Here's information on employment discrimination laws and what remedies are available to help combat discrimination issues.
How to Handle a Wrongful Termination
What can an employee who has been wrongfully terminated do? The first step for someone who has been wrongfully terminated is to know your rights. Here's information on your rights when your employment is terminated.
The next step is to determine what remedies are available and what recourse you may have. Check with the Human Resources department at your company. Even though your employment has been terminated they will be able to answer questions for you about the termination process and what benefits you may be entitled to. Also, ask if you are able to appeal the decision.
If you believe that you have been discriminated against or haven't been treated according to the law or company policy the US Department of Labor has information on each law that regulates employment and advice on where and how to file a claim. Your state labor department may also be able to assist, depending on state law and the circumstances.
In some cases, you may be able to sue your former employer for wrongful termination. Local bar associations often have a referral service and may even have a hotline you can call to find an employment lawyer. Keep in mind that you will need to pay for an attorney's services.
Termination and Unemployment
When you are terminated you may not be eligible for unemployment compensation. If you are not sure whether you're eligible for unemployment, check with your state unemployment office to determine your eligibility for unemployment compensation. If your claim is denied you will be able to appeal and explain the circumstances of your termination.
Have a Question?
Here are answers to the most frequently asked questions about termination from employment, including reasons for getting fired, employee rights when you have been terminated, collecting unemployment, wrongful termination, saying goodbye to co-workers and more.
The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law.