In the midst of minute details in employment contracts you may have signed months or even years ago, you might wonder about the employer’s termination authority and, in the case that you are fired, what is considered wrongful termination. If you feel you have been unfairly terminated, you might have a case for wrongful termination. Keep reading to find out more about what constitutes and doesn’t constitute wrongful termination.
Have I Been Wrongfully Terminated?
Wrongful termination means an employer has fired or laid off an employee for illegal reasons. The best way to determine a case of wrongful termination is to examine whether your employer has fired you in violation of contractual or legal reasons. Note that many states are “at-will” employment states, which means your employer is free to terminate your employment at any time for any reason or no particular reason at all. For example, Texas is an “at-will” state, so employees can be fired for no reason at all, just not for an illegal reason.
What Is Not Wrongful Termination?
With that in mind, employers could make the case that you have not been wrongfully terminated if you have been fired for the following:
- No reason. At-will employers are not required to give one;
- A seemingly minor cause such as being late to work;
- Refusal to relocate or accept a different position;
- Refusal to sign non-compete agreements or a non-disclosure agreement;
- Reporting bad, but not illegal, the behavior of a boss or co-worker; and
- Personality disputes between employees and a manager.
Also note that things like mass layoffs, poor performance, reduction in force, going out of business, or an action that is the fault of the employee can all be legal reasons to lay off employees.
What Is Wrongful Termination?
However, you have been wrongfully terminated if you have been let go due to an employer's:
- Violation of federal and state anti-discrimination laws;
- Firing as a form of sexual harassment;
- Violation of oral and written employment agreements;
- Violation of labor laws; and
- Retaliation for your having filed a complaint or claim against your employer.
If you believe you were fired for an illegal reason as listed above, you may have a lawsuit for wrongful termination with the appropriate proof according to the type of wrongful termination you are claiming.
Types of Wrongful Termination
Termination by Discrimination
Many cases of wrongful termination are associated with discrimination on the basis of sex, race, ethnic background, religion, disability, pregnancy, or even age. Employees are protected from termination due to these characteristics both under federal and state anti-discrimination laws.
Termination by Harassment
An employee enduring harassment in the workplace and choosing to leave as a result can be viewed as “constructive termination," which means the equivalent of wrongful termination even though an employee has quit their position.
Termination by Breach of Contract
Keep in mind that the terms of your employment contract will be important for determining wrongful termination. For instance, if the contract states you may only be fired if you fail to meet certain benchmarks, then you may not be terminated for other reasons.
Note that a breach of contract must include these four elements:
- An employment contract existed.
- The employee satisfied their duties under the employment contract.
- The employee was fired due to circumstances that breached the terms of the employment contract.
- The employee suffered some type of damage due to the breach of the contract.
To learn more about breaches of contract, read our previous blog post about the four types of contract breaches you might encounter in the workplace.
Refusal to Perform Criminal Acts
Employers may not fire you if they have requested that you commit an illegal act and you refuse. Note that this does not apply if an employer only suggests or demands that you perform a criminal act but does not fire you if you refuse. To be considered “wrongful termination,” the employer must give an employee the option to either commit the criminal act or lose the individual’s job.
Violation of Civil Rights Statutes
Employers are also prohibited from firing an employee who has the right to take time off due to:
- Military duty
- Jury duty
- Medical and family leave
An employer may not fire an employee for reporting suspected illegal activity to government authorities. Doing so constitutes wrongful termination, as employees are protected under federal and state whistleblowing protection laws to speak up about any illegal activity from their employers. For more information on whistleblowing protection laws for employees, read our previous blog.
While many states operate under “at-will” employment that grants employers the authority to fire an employee for any or no reason, employers are not allowed to fire an employee for an illegal reason. If you feel you have been fired due to a violation of the law, you should seek an experienced lawyer to pursue a case of wrongful termination. Our employment attorneys can help you navigate the terms of your case appropriately and efficiently.
Contact us at Shellist Lazarz Slobin LLP for a consultation today!