Wrongful Termination -- Employee Law

Can it Be Wrongful Termination if I'm in a Union?

A labor union contract doesn’t protect your employer from a wrongful termination lawsuit. Your boss can wrongfully terminate you when firing you breaks the contract. They also can’t fire you for an illegal reason even when they follow the agreement.

This article explains wrongful termination for union employees. Wrongful termination laws vary by state. So, speaking with a wrongful termination lawyer in your state is essential. An experienced attorney can give you legal advice and help assess your case. They can also represent you in a wrongful termination lawsuit.

What Is a Collective Bargaining Agreement?

A collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is a written employment contract. It’s between a labor union and an employer. The contract includes the terms and conditions of employment for union employees. Some of the provisions often found in a CBA include the following:

  • Wages
  • Benefits
  • Job duties
  • Seniority
  • Work hours
  • Discipline and discharge procedures
  • The grievance process

A CBA is a legally enforceable contract. Its terms bind both parties.

What Is Wrongful Termination?

Most employment in the United States is at-will employment. Any employee without an employment contract is at will. Generally, an employer can fire an at-will employee for any reason. But state and federal laws create exceptions to at-will employment. It’s wrongful termination if your employer violates one of these laws when it fires you. Wrongful termination is sometimes called wrongful discharge.

The exceptions to at-will employment fall into three general categories. Only some states recognize these exceptions. Contact an employment law attorney in your area for more information about your state’s laws. The following are the exceptions:

  • Under the good faith exception, your employer can only fire you for good cause. Good cause means your employer must have a legitimate reason for firing you. Examples of good cause include poor work performance and misconduct.
  • Many employment agreements are written contracts. An implied contract is an unwritten employment agreement. The actions and conduct of you and your employer can create an implied contract. Provisions in an employee handbook can also create an implied contract. For instance, your employee handbook says you get three warnings before firing you. It could be wrongful termination if your boss fires you after only one warning.
  • The public policy exception means your employer can’t fire you if it violates a federal or state law. For example, your employer can’t fire you if you’re a whistleblower. Civil rights violations also go against public policy.

What Is Just Cause?

The CBA governs the union employee’s work relationship with the employer. So, you’re not an at-will employee when you’re a union member. Your CBA likely says your employer can only discipline or discharge you for just cause. That means your employer must have evidence to justify punishing or firing you. It’s wrongful termination if your employer fires you without just cause.

Labor laws also make it illegal for your boss to fire you for participating in union activities. Union activities include handing out fliers and attending union meetings. Be aware that your employer can limit union activities during work hours. After all, you have a job to do.

You have options if your boss breaks your CBA when they fire you. You can file a grievance with your union. You may also be able to file a complaint with a federal or state labor agency. Filing a wrongful termination lawsuit is also an option.

Can You File a Union Grievance?

Union members have access to the union grievance process. During the grievance process, your union representative will meet with your employer. They’ll try to resolve the issue during the meeting. If they can’t, the matter may go to arbitration. An arbitrator is a neutral third party who will try to resolve the situation.

How Can You File a Complaint With a Government Agency?

You may be able to file a complaint with a state or federal government agency. This option depends on why your boss terminated you. For example, if you were fired for a discriminatory reason. Discriminatory reasons include:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Sex (including sexual orientation and pregnancy)
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Genetic material

You can file a complaint if your employer retaliates against you for participating in a protected activity. Examples of protected activities include the following:

  • Reporting sexual harassment
  • Filing a worker’s compensation claim
  • Reporting hazardous working conditions

How Can You File a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit?

Filing a wrongful termination lawsuit may also be an option. But you may have to file a union grievance and complaint with a government agency before filing a lawsuit. An example is if your boss fired you for a discriminatory reason. In that case, you must file a discrimination complaint with the government before you can sue.

Contact an Employment Lawyer for Help With Your Case

Figuring out wrongful termination can be difficult. Having just been fired doesn’t make it any easier. So, knowing your legal rights is essential. An employment law attorney can give you legal advice about your situation. They can also help navigate your union grievance process. They can also help you file a wrongful termination claim.

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