Written by AskTheLawyers.com™
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Losing a job can be truly devastating not only to us but also to those we love who are depending on us. It is even worse is if we lose our job because of wrongful termination, a reason that is in no way the fault of the employee. Many times, victims of wrongful termination often suffer workplace harassment and/or discrimination and are fired without cause.
What Is Wrongful Termination?
Wrongful termination is when someone is fired from his or her job for an illegal reason. Most wrongful terminations fall into one of the following categories:
- Breach of Contract (Written) – This can apply to any written statement, such as an employment contract or offer letter, that provides you with job security. If the written document promises that you will have continued employment, can only be fired for specific reasons, or that you can only be fired with good cause, you may be able to use it to fight your wrongful termination.
- Breach of Contract (Implied) – This involves things an employer did or said that implied that you would have continued employment or that you could only be fired with good cause. Factors that could impact this type of breach of contract include how long you worked at the company, promotions, performance reviews, whether you were warned before you were fired, and assurances you were given that you would have continued employment with the company.
- Breach of Fair Dealing and Good Faith – This applies if the court decides that your employer treated you unfairly. Examples of this type of treatment include stopping you from earning sales commissions by transferring you, consistently giving you poor assignments to convince you to quit, or convincing you that you have a chance to get a pay raise or promotion even though they have no intention of giving you either.
- Discrimination – Firing an employee, even at-will employees, for discriminatory reasons is illegal. This can include terminating a worker because of his or her gender, disability, race, religion, nationality, pregnancy status, age, or sexual orientation. Workplace discrimination comes in many forms and should not be tolerated.
- Public Policy Violation – This involves terminating an employee for reasons that the public would consider illegitimate. This could include letting a worker go for taking vacation, serving in the National Guard, serving jury duty, or taking time away from work to go vote.
- Fraud – A fraudulent termination generally stems from either the recruitment process or an employee’s last few days, weeks, or months with a company. This type of wrongful termination involves an employer presenting a false representation that tricks you into accepting a job or quitting a job.
- Whistleblowing – You are protected under whistleblower laws if you report an activity that your employer is engaged in that is harming the public or illegal. Therefore, if you are fired for whistleblowing, the firing would be considered wrongful termination.
- Defamation – This involves an employer making statements about you that are false or malicious either during the process of firing you or in employment references they provide to potential future employers. These statements must either cause you to lose a job or prevent you from getting a new job to be considered defamation under employment law.
- Retaliation – Workplace retaliation is considered to have taken place if your employer fires you for taking part in legally protected activities, such as making a complaint to human resources regarding harassment or discrimination or filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
What Can Lead to Wrongful Termination?
As noted earlier, wrongful termination falls into several categories. Generally, whatever category a wrongful termination falls under points to the reason that the firing was illegal. For instance, if you reported harassment or discrimination and you were then fired as a result, you were likely the victim of wrongful termination.
Can I Sue If I’m a Victim of Wrongful Termination?
If you live in a state that allows at-will employment and your employer is an at-will employer, you may not be able to sue for wrongful termination. At-will employment law enables employers to fire you without legal consequences for just about any reason and at almost any time. If you either live in a state that does not allow at-will employment or your employer is not an at-will employer, you may be able to file a wrongful termination complaint.
However, it does not hurt to explore your options by speaking with an experienced employment attorney. Many offer free consultations so you can at least find out if you might have a case.
Proving Wrongful Termination
Proving that you were the victim of an illegal firing involves several steps, such as:
- Talk to an employment lawyer – Doing this ensures that you will know the proper steps to take to file a wrongful termination lawsuit if you prove to be eligible.
- Keep notes – Write down detailed notes about the events leading up to your firing, your termination, and every step you take post-firing. These notes could prove to be valuable to your wrongful termination claim. Include dates and quotes as best you can remember them.
- Request an explanation – Ask your employer to provide you with a detailed reason for your firing (in writing if possible).
- Request a copy of your personnel file – Ask your employer to provide you with a copy of your personnel file.
- Determine if you can file an EEOC complaint – If you were the victim of workplace discrimination or harassment, you may be able to file a complaint with the EEOC regarding your firing.
- Research your state’s at-will employment laws – Know your state’s at-will employment laws and what employer actions can provide you with exceptions that enable you to file a wrongful termination claim.
- Start looking for another job – This is not required by law. However, if your case goes to trial, it will look better to a judge and/or jury if you have been looking for or have gotten a new job. If you are complaining about a loss of income and pinning the loss on your former employer, you may not be sympathetic to judges and juries.
Damages for Wrongful Termination
There are many types of damages that can be awarded to a victim of wrongful termination, including the following:
- Loss of income
- Punitive damages (Damages paid for particularly severe employer mistreatment. Not available in every wrongful termination or state.)
- Loss of benefits
- Mental anguish
Should I Speak to an Employment Lawyer If I Was the Victim of Wrongful Termination?
If you even suspect that you have been fired illegally, you should consult an experienced employment lawyer as soon as possible. In many cases, an employment attorney will meet with you for free and examine your situation. During this meeting, the lawyer will be able to tell you if you have a valid case, explain your options, and answer your questions. Plus, if you do decide to move forward with a wrongful termination lawsuit, an experienced employment lawyer with a history of success can guide you through the process of bringing those responsible for your illegal firing to justice. Employment attorneys handle wrongful termination lawsuits routinely and will know exactly how to deal with your employer’s legal team’s tactics. In the meantime, with your attorney carrying the legal burden, you and your family can concentrate on picking up the pieces of your life and moving forward.