Understanding Wrongful Termination

Many circumstances can result in the termination of employment. A firing is often a traumatic and destabilizing event. While these unfortunate occurrences may seem untimely, unfair, and unsubstantiated; the termination may not always qualify as “wrongful.”

What is Wrongful Termination?

Wrongful termination refers to a fired employee’s claim that the firing breached an employment contract, policy or public law. As such, in order to prevail in a lawsuit against your employer for wrongful termination, you must prove that your firing violated your contract, company policy, or law.

Contract

Many employees are required to sign a contract upon accepting a job. Often, the contract will stipulate the terms of your employment, company policies, and may provide general reasons for termination. If you entered into individual employment contract with your employer, you can review it to see if your termination violated the terms of your agreement. In particular, union employee contracts tend to state more specifically under what terms you can be terminated. If your termination is at odds with the stated terms in the contract, you likely will have a claim for wrongful termination. Other resources such as company handbooks can also shed light on what may be legal grounds for termination.

Discrimination Laws 

Federal law prohibits termination due to certain terms, such as age, sex, religion, national origin, or disability. These classifications are known as protected statuses.  If you have a protected status, you may be able to substantiate a claim for wrongful termination. The caveat is that you would need to prove that the termination was in response to your protected status. It is also important to note that while the law has made some strides in providing protections for sexual orientation discrimination, there is no overarching federal law that designates sexual orientation/gender identity as a protected class; although various laws and regulations may provide additional protections in various industries and states.

Public Policy

Employers are barred from terminating employees for reasons that violate “good public policy,” which means that employees cannot be fired for things such as refusing to break laws, refusing to take safety/regulation shortcuts, or reporting violations to regulatory agencies (whistleblowing).

Certainly, all terminations are not the same and are not prompted by the same set of circumstances. As such, if you believe that you have been the victim of a wrongful termination, contact a skilled employment law attorney to help you vindicate your rights in the workplace.

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