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Wrongful Termination

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Wrongful termination means an employer has fired or laid off an employee in violation of their legal rights. If wrongful termination law is violated, a wrongfully terminated employee may file a wrongful employment termination complaint with government agencies and/or file a private lawsuit, usually with the help of wrongful termination lawyers.


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Understanding Wrongful Termination

To answer the question, "What is Wrongful Termination?" (and to determine whether someone may have been wrongfully terminated), it helps to understand what the phrase "employment at-will" means.

All states have adopted the employment "at-will" doctrine to some degree, which means that employees can generally quit their jobs at any time without advanced notice or cause. It also means that an employer can generally fire or lay off their employees at any time without a reason. Employers often, and legitimately, ask employees to sign contracts or agreements that document and enforce the terms of at will employment, usually in company policy manuals.

There are exceptions to this doctrine. Employees and employers aren't allowed to breach employment contracts or agreements, or violate laws, regulations, constitutional provisions or public policy when terminating employment. As well, possible exceptions include breach of implied contract, reliance on an offer of employment and intentional emotional distress. At will employees can be fired for job-related problems, or for non-job-related reasons such as the boss not liking your jokes, or a personality conflict.

However, at will employees who were wrongfully terminated have challenged the doctrine in court and won and received compensation, including wrongful termination damages.

The Employment at Will Doctrine differs with each state. Your state's labor office can advise you on its policy or you can consult a wrongful termination attorney. For additional state-specific wrongful termination information, see New York Wrongful Termination, New Jersey Wrongful Termination, California Wrongful Termination, and Washington Wrongful Termination.


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Wrongful Termination Examples

Wrongful Termination LawThere is no specific wrongful termination law. Rather, there are a number of federal laws that, if violated, can constitute a wrongful termination. An employer must illegally discharge an employee to violate wrongful termination laws. No matter how unfair it seems, if your discharge is not illegal, wrongful termination law may not apply.

Some examples of wrongful termination occur if an employer laid off or fired an employee:
  • In violation of a state or Federal discrimination law (1)
  • In violation of the employment-related provisions in the Fair Credit Reporting Act or Bankruptcy Act
  • In violation of rights granted by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
  • In violation of a state voting leave law
  • In violation of the employer's own discharge policy
  • In breach of an explicit or implied contract of employment or an employer-union collective bargaining agreement (contract law)
  • In breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing
  • According to the constructive discharge doctrine (2)
  • Because the employee would not break a law (public policy violation)
  • Under the guise of a false statement of fact
  • For jury duty (Judiciary and Judicial Procedure Act)
  • Insufficient Cause (3)
Wrongful Termination Discrimination(1) Discrimination: if you have been discriminated against because of race, sex, religion, disability or age, it may be a breach of your human rights.

(2) Constructive Dismissal: If you felt pressured to resign, or your working conditions were made to be so horrible you couldn't continue working, you may be able to claim constructive discharge. You may also claim constructive dismissal if your pay or working conditions have been degraded or if your level of responsibility has been reduced.

(3) Insufficient Cause: Actions such as theft, violence or threatening behavior may be cause for immediate dismissal. However, isolated instances of a less serious nature can not normally be used as an excuse to fire someone, unless there is a history of such behavior.

In some states an employee might be wrongfully terminated if an employer discharged an employee in retaliation for:
  • Reasonably exercising employee rights under relevant employment and labor laws
  • Reasonably exercising union rights
  • Legitimately taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act
  • Serving in the military
  • Wage garnishment for one debt
  • Whistleblowing

Whistleblower Wrongful Termination

Whistleblowing has gotten a lot of attention in recent years due to the popularity of movies like "The Informant" starring Matt Damon, and "The Insider" starring Russell Crowe. But anyone can be a whistleblower--and the law states that it is illegal to fire an employee, or to engage in retaliation against an employee, for whistleblowing.

Any person who "interferes" with the livelihood of an employee who has provided information to legal authorities regarding alleged illegal activity of their employer, is subject to up to 10 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines.

Contract Employee and Wrongful Termination

If you have a contract, your termination will be governed by the terms of the contract, unless the contract states you are an at-will employee, in which case you may be fired "at will". Contracts may be written or oral, even based on a promise that your "job would be secure".

Filing a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit

If you think you have been wrongfully terminated, it's a good idea to seek the advice of an experienced lawyer. As well, a short statute of limitations may apply, so seek advice sooner than later. A wrongful termination lawsuit can be filed either with a government agency that enforces labor laws, or in a private lawsuit. If your employer's violation is related to a specific part of state or federal law, you might want to contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Occupational and Safety Hazards Administration, or your state's labor offices.

Wrongful TerminationIf you believe you have been wrongfully terminated, you may have a right to bring a claim for wrongful termination against your former employer. Legal remedies that may be available to you include wrongful termination damages. If you haven't been officially terminated yet, an experienced wrongful termination attorney can help you negotiate an appropriate severance package that includes adequate compensation.

If your employer has violated public or company policy, a private lawsuit is typically the only way to settle disputes. Wrongful termination attorneys often take wrongful employee termination cases on a contingency basis.

Wrongful Termination Legal Help

If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated from your job, please click the link below to send your complaint to an Employment attorney who will review your claim at no charge or obligation.

Last updated on May-7-15


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