“Is this wrongful termination?” is often a loaded question, particularly if you’ve just lost your job. Being terminated is stressful at best, devastating at worst. The truth is that no one can really be prepared to lose their job abruptly. There are plenty of accepted best practices for finding a job, but there is no rule book for how to act when you are fired from one.
Regardless of the specific circumstances of a termination, the worker has rights. Understanding those rights can create a sense of agency after being let go by their employer. The most productive thing you can do is make sure you know your rights.
If you’ve been fired and it feels inherently wrong or unjustified… trust your instincts, arm yourself with information, and consult with professionals.
Guidelines About Wrongful Termination
The parameters of wrongful termination vary from state to state, so it’s a nuanced definition.
Employers hold the power to terminate employees for potentially unfair reasons unless they are breaking the law.
How do you know that your employer has broken the law by firing you? You’ll have to ask yourself some tough questions and be able to provide evidence from your history with your employer.
Your employerhas acted unlawfully If the basis of your termination falls under either of these two categories:
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has created federal laws preventing workers from being mistreated for aspects of their personal identity. Protected identities include race, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, pregnancy, national origin, age, disability, and genetic information.
Ask Yourself The Tough Questions
Can you draw a solid connection between your termination and an element of your identity?
While employed, did you experience or witness any mistreatment because of your personal identity? If so, did you complain about this mistreatment to a superior or colleague?
Common types of discriminatory mistreatment include sexual harassment, inappropriate racial humor, or failure to accommodate employees with disabilities.
This category involves employers terminating employment as retribution for a perceived slight against the employer or company. One example of retaliation is firing an employee for reporting workplace discrimination or harassment they are witnessing or experiencing themselves.
Employers are also retaliating when they dismiss an employee for refusing unsafe or illegal work tasks.
Another common example of retaliation is dismissing an employee for whistleblowing, or reporting company/employer wrongdoing to the press or authorities. In any scenario where retaliation is used, it’s an insidious attempt to silence or punish a worker unjustly.
Other Unlawful Termination Practices
Violation of a Contract or Employee Handbook
No matter why an employee is terminated, the act of firing could be deemed illegal if it violates the terms of the employee’s contract. For example, if the employee signs a fixed-term contract, it’s possible that terminating them before a specified end-date is a breach of the agreement.
In the case of an employee handbook, if an employer deviates from a set disciplinary plan in the company’s policies and terminates the employee, it could be considered an illegal breach.
There are even situations where there is no formal contract for an employee, but the employer made several explicit promises upon hiring. This is called an “implied contract.” This type of agreement (including pay and benefits) can be enforceable if outlined in detail in an employee handbook.
Terminated employees with a contract dispute are best to fight this battle with a legal wiz from the early stages. Engaging a lawyer right away can improve success as navigating the complex area of contracts and employment terms are their specialty.
Violating or Objecting to Protected Time Off
This refers to the rare but troubling situations where employees are fired because they need time off or paid leave for personal or civil obligations. An employer or company should never penalize an employee for requesting protected time off. Protected time off includes family and medical leave, jury duty, voting, or reporting for military service.
A vast number of employers across the U.S. are well versed in the laws regarding protected time off, so any breach of this would be a clear-cut case for a terminated employee.
Being let go from your job is an upsetting and confounding experience if it’s unfounded. Don’t be defeated; remember, if you genuinely weren’t at fault, then your employer was. Do your research, communicate the facts clearly to a legal wiz. While taking legal action against your former employer won’t solve all of your problems, it could be a step toward a much needed fresh start.