Wrongful termination is a complex component of employment law. This legislation aims to strike a balance between protecting employees from discrimination and allowing employers to have control over their businesses. There are many reasons why you might be able to argue that you’ve been fired for reasons that “just aren’t fair,” but the legal definition of “wrongful termination” focuses on distinguishing between lawful and unlawful actions—not seemingly fair and unfair actions.
At Robert A. Klingler Co., L.P.A., our employment attorneys understand that it’s not always easy to understand what constitutes wrongful termination and what does not. Almost all employment is considered “at will” employment; this means that the employer has the right to fire an employee at any given time for any given reason, so long as that reason is not discriminatory as defined by the applicable laws.
Even when your employment is considered “at will,” your employer cannot legally fire you based on certain personal characteristics. Termination based on a protected characteristic is considered discrimination in the workplace and it is illegal under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, or other federal or state laws.
Types of discrimination that could possibly result in wrongful termination include:
- Gender and/or gender identity
Pregnancy (which includes being pregnant or planning to become pregnant)
- Sexual orientation
- Ethnicity or national origin
Many of the applicable laws require you to file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) before you may file a lawsuit against your former employer. Proving that your termination was based on any of the factors listed above is not a simple process—so if you believe that your termination was discriminatory, it’s important to contact a wrongful termination lawyer immediately.
There are several different types of employment contracts, including “implied contracts” in some cases, which could give rise to a legal claim.
- Written contracts: If you have a written contract with your employer which promises employment for a specified period of time, and your employer terminates your employment during the term of the contract, you may have a claim for damages relating to your termination. It’s important to read over the “fine print” in employment contracts for this very reason.
- Implied contracts: An implied contract is a contract based on something that your employer said or did that would imply a promise of continued employment. It is very difficult to prove breach of contract under this argument because employers typically do not make promises—even informal ones—to suggest that an employee is guaranteed employment; furthermore, it is even more difficult to provide evidence of these implied contracts in a court of law.
If you witness wrongdoing in the workplace and you report it—either to a supervisor or to an outside governing board—your employer may be prohibited from firing you solely because you spoke up.
Retaliation comes in many forms at the workplace, and termination from your job is just one of these forms. In determining whether your termination was the result of illegal retaliation, a court will likely consider the following factors:
- Whether you were speaking up to report an unlawful activity at your workplace, such as illegal activities or discrimination;
- Whether you were breaking any laws by speaking up (this part can be difficult if your job involves a certain measure of discretion to protect sensitive information and if you spoke up about that information);
- Whether your act of speaking up is what specifically prompted your employer to take punitive actions against you (such as firing you);
- And whether these actions had direct, negative consequences for you and your employment.
Public Policy Violations
There are certain acts which are considered to be acts in furtherance of a “public policy.” If an employer fires an employee for engaging in one of these acts, it is considered a wrongful termination because these acts have been deemed essential and inherent rights for our society.
These acts may include:
- Taking time off work (if necessary) to vote in elections
- Taking time off work (if necessary) to serve on jury duty
- Serving in the military or National Guard
- Reporting certain acts of wrongdoing in the workplace to the authorities and/or the EEOC
The specific acts protected by public policy vary from state to state, and most states have detailed rules about how workers can receive protection for participating in these acts.
Whistleblowing is the term used when an employee reports a wrongdoing that satisfies the standards of the whistleblower laws—usually involving sensitive information that has harmed the public’s well-being. Whistleblowing has become synonymous with unveiling government corruption for many people, but whistleblowing situations aren’t always related to the government. In order to receive whistleblower protection, employees must be very meticulous about the information that they share publicly and the way in which they share it. Failing to follow state guidelines when releasing sensitive information could result in great harm to the public, and therefore any individual who fails to take the proper precautions may not be protected under the law.
Contacting a Wrongful Termination Lawyer
If you believe you’ve been a victim of wrongful termination, contact the experienced employment attorneys at Robert A. Klingler Co., L.P.A. Our wrongful termination lawyers can sit down with you for a free and confidential discussion about your situation, and together, we can decide if taking legal action is right for you and your situation.