Wrongful Termination -- Employee Law

What Is Considered Wrongful Termination?

Losing your job can be devastating to you and your family. In the United States, your employer can fire you for various reasons but federal and state laws limit those reasons. Knowing when it’s illegal for your employer to fire you is essential.

This article gives you examples of wrongful termination. Wrongful termination laws vary by state. So, consider speaking with a wrongful termination lawyer in your area. An experienced attorney can help you in many ways. They can explain your legal rights and give you advice about your circumstances. They can also help you file a wrongful termination lawsuit.

What Is Wrongful Termination?

Most U.S. workers are what’s called “at-will.” That means your employer can fire you for any legal reason without notice.

Wrongful termination is sometimes called wrongful discharge or wrongful dismissal. It’s when your employer fires you for an illegal reason. Both federal and state laws define those illegal reasons. Discrimination, harassment, and retaliation are the most common reasons for wrongful termination.

You can win back pay and attorney’s fees if you win your wrongful termination lawsuit. You can also win punitive damages in some cases. Some examples of wrongful termination are as follows:

Refusing Sexual Advances

An unwanted sexual advance is a form of sexual harassment. It creates a hostile work environment that causes emotional distress. It’s unlawful to fire an employee for reporting harassment to human resources. It’s also illegal to fire an employee for refusing a sexual advance.

Illegal Discrimination

Federal laws make it illegal for your employer to fire you for a discriminatory reason. What that means is you can’t be fired because of your:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Age (age 40 or older)
  • Sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation)
  • National origin
  • Genetic information

Employment discrimination can take many forms. These include giving you fewer hours because of your race or not promoting you because of your sex. For example, your boss can’t assign you to the overnight shift and later fire you because you turned 45.

Anti-discrimination laws also make retaliation by your employer illegal. That means your boss can’t fire you for filing a discrimination complaint.

Whistleblower Retaliation

A whistleblower is someone who reports illegal activity by a business or government. Whistleblowers are often an employee with access to information that isn’t public. Federal and state laws make it illegal for your employer to fire you if you’re a whistleblower.

Suppose your employer has a contract to supply truck parts to the military. The contract specifies that the parts must be of a certain quality. To increase its profits, your employer is secretly using low-quality materials. Your employer can’t fire you for reporting your employer’s fraud.

Refusing to Break the Law

It’s also illegal for your employer to fire you if you refuse to break the law for them. Let’s continue with the example where your employer sells truck parts to the military. Your employer can’t fire you if your boss orders you to use low-quality parts and you refuse.

Filing a Worker’s Compensation Claim or Reporting Unsafe Working Conditions

Employers must provide a safe work environment. It’s illegal for your employer to fire you if you get injured at work and file a worker’s compensation claim. You also can’t be fired for reporting dangerous workplace conditions.

For instance, you’ll need protective equipment if you work with dangerous chemicals. You can’t lose your job if you report your employer for not providing that equipment.

Reporting Employer Retaliation

It’s illegal for your employer to fire you for participating in a protected activity. Protected activities include reporting discrimination, workplace safety violations, or harassment.

Suppose you work the day shift at a hospital. One day you find patient records sitting in a public area where anyone can see them. You report the incident, and soon after, you get moved to the night shift. That may be retaliation. Your employer can’t fire you if you file a retaliation complaint.

Breach of Contract

An employment contract is often a written agreement. But it can also be an unwritten agreement created by an employee handbook or company policy. These unwritten agreements are called implied contracts.

It’s illegal for your employer to fire you in violation of your employment agreement. It doesn’t matter if you have an implied or written contract. For example, suppose your employee handbook says you can be late three times in a month. It’s wrongful termination if they fire you the second time you’re late.

Violation of Public Policy

It’s illegal if your employer fires you for a reason that violates public law. For instance, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows you to take extended time off for certain medical reasons. Your employer can’t fire you if you take FMLA leave for a covered medical condition.

Get Help With Your Wrongful Termination Case

Most of the U.S. workforce are at-will employees. But businesses can’t fire employees for illegal reasons. Knowing your legal rights is essential if you’re the victim of wrongful termination. An employment lawyer can give you legal advice about your situation. They can also help you file a wrongful termination case.

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