While unjust termination of employment is not always a black-and-white issue, it is believed that at least 150,000 people are fired unjustly each year.
If you have been terminated from your job, you might be wondering if you have experienced illegal termination of employment.
In many instances, employees are engaged in an “at-will” agreement. That means that either the worker or the business can terminate the contract at any time for any reason so long as it doesn’t violate the law.
Do you want to know more about wrongful termination of employment? Let’s take a look at what you need to know.
Table of Contents
1. What Is Wrongful Termination?
If you’re wondering whether you were wrongfully terminated at work, you’ll first need to understand what wrongful termination is.
In simple terms, wrongful termination is when an employer fires an employee in violation of any law in place to protect workers. These tend to be anti-harassment and anti-discrimination laws. These laws include those administered by the Department of Labor and the EEOC, in addition to local and state laws.
When there is an unjust firing in these ways, an employer might be held liable for penalties, fines, backpay, and remedial action. Remedial action is action that seeks to make sure the same behavior does not occur in the future. This might include auditing by the regulatory agency for a few years, providing training to management and staff members, or any other action the regulatory agency thinks is appropriate.
Employment law can be complicated and difficult to understand. If you believe you’ve been wrongfully terminated, you can make sense to talk to a lawyer.
2. What Is At-Will Employment?
One of the most common forms of employment is at-will employment. What this means is that you don’t need a reason to quit and your boss doesn’t need a reason to fire you.
What this means is that an employer doesn’t need “just cause” in order to fire you if you are an at-will employee. They have the right to do this without warning so long as the reason is not illegal. Illegal reasons include discrimination or retaliation.
3. What Is a Protected Class?
There are certain groups of employees that, based on their traits or characteristics, are provided legal protection. These are known as protected classes. Protected classes are defined at the federal level to include:
- National origin
- Veteran status
- Sexual orientation
- Physical or mental disability
At the state and local level, there are often even broader definitions of protected classes. It’s important to take a look at your municipality’s and state’s laws and understand what constitutes a protected class in your state.
4. What Is Protected Activity?
In addition to “protected classes,” there also protected activities. Another way that people can be wrongfully terminated at work.
When it comes to illegal termination of employment, there are two main ways that employers might wrongfully fire an individual for a protected activity. These include retaliation as well as union or concerted activities.
If an employee files a claim that they have been discriminated against or harassed in relation to their position as belonging to a protected class, this action is protected under the law. If the individual is fired after filing this claim, it is inferred that they were fired as a form of retaliation because of the claim filed.
It is considered a legal right to file a complaint with an outside agency or an employer. If the employee is fired after this action, this could constitute a wrongful discharge. This is because it can be inferred that the termination was the result of the claim and therefore the firing violates their rights.
There are also union activities that are protected under the law. The National Labor Relations Act, administered by the National Labor Relations Board, protects the right of employees to join, form, discuss, and assist unions at the workplace. If an employer tries to interfere with these rights, it’s possible that they are in violation of the NLRA.
If someone is fired as a result of pretty much any type of union activity, the discharge might be considered wrongful.
5. What Are Illegal Reasons to Fire an Employee?
Anytime an employee is terminated as a result of a protected activity or their protected class, this is wrongful termination. There are therefore thousands of illegal reasons that an employer could fire an employee.
For example, a pregnant employee cannot be fired because she cannot do any heavy lifting. While the company might feel the firing is justified as her role requires heavy lifting, it is legally required that her rights during pregnancy be protected. It is required that the employer provide her with an alternative duty or light work while she is pregnant.
6. What Are Legal Reasons to Fire an Employee?
There are a number of reasons that an employee can be fired the completely legal. Two of these include downsizing and layoffs. Unless there is disparate impact, neither of these commonly result in wrongful discharge claims.
An employee can also be fired for cause or fired at-will.
If an employee is fired for a specific reason that makes it unsustainable to continue employing them, this is considered termination for cause.
As discussed earlier, in most states, employers are “at-will.” What this means, is that the employment agreement can be severed at any time by either employee or the business, without reason or notice. No reason has to be provided if an employee is fired at-will.
Wrongful Termination of Employment: It’s Complicated
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