When is a Job Termination Wrongful?
The rules for whether an employee was improperly fired or terminated from their job vary by state.
"At Will" Employment
The majority of states today follow the rule that employment is "at the will" of either the employer or the employee, or "at will." "At will" means that an employer can fire an employee for any reason the employer sees fit, provided it is not for an improper reason. It does not make a difference whether the employee actually did anything wrong, or whether the employer misunderstood the facts of the situation. If the employee is "at-will," any reason, including no reason, is a proper basis for termination.
The following are some exceptions to when firing an at-will employee amounts to wrongful termination:
- Discrimination – The employer cannot terminate employment because the employee is a certain race, nationality, religion, sex, age, or in some states, sexual orientation.
- Retaliation – An employer cannot fire an employee because the employee filed a claim of discrimination or is participating in an investigation for discrimination. This "retaliation" is forbidden under civil rights law.
- Contractual Employees – Generally, an employee with an employment contract can only be terminated for the reasons stated in the contract. Employment contracts for specified periods of time or permitting terminations only for specific reasons are rare today.
- Illegal Acts – An employer is not permitted to fire an employee because the employee refuses to commit an act that is illegal.
- Family or Medical Leave – Federal law permits most employees to take a leave of absence for specific family or medical problems. An employer is not permitted to fire an employee who takes family or medical leave for a reason outlined in the Family and Medical Leave Act.
- Not Following Own Termination Procedures – Often, the employee handbook or company policy outlines a procedure that must be followed before an employee is terminated. If the employer fires an employee without following this procedure, the employee may have a claim for wrongful termination.
If you believe you may be fired for an illegal reason, contact an experienced lawyer at Messa & Associates, P.C. One of our attorneys can help you investigate the reasons for the termination and gather appropriate documents.