Wrongful termination is when an employer fires an employee for a reason not allowed by the law. This gives the employee the right to sue the employer. Wrongful termination claims can result from the alleged violation of federal or state laws, employment contracts or labor laws.
Many employees may feel termination was “wrongful”, especially if there was no apparent cause, but the legal definition of wrongful termination is specific. It is not that straightforward and employees may have the following misconceptions.
Unreasonable termination qualifies as wrongful termination
In “at-will” states like California, the prevailing legal principle is “employment at will,” which means an employee or employer can end the working relationship at any time. If the employment contract requires a cause for termination and the employee isn’t given one, it is possible to file a wrongful termination claim.
If there is no employment contract, an employee can be fired for any reason at all. However, anti-discrimination laws are still applicable in “at-will” states. Pennsylvania is another “at-will” employment state and Pennsylvania employment lawyers can help employees to determine whether they have a case or not. The Lacy Employment Law Firm never takes a fee unless its lawyers win a verdict or settlement.
Workplace discrimination laws are only for women and minorities
Everyone has a right to be protected by workplace discrimination laws. Anyone fired as a result of their race, religion, sexual orientation, medical condition or disability can file a wrongful termination claim.
Age discrimination is common in the workplace but if people are older than 40, they cannot just assume they’re protected by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). It only protects employees who are eligible under a certain set of guidelines. Employees who are protected under this act can sue employers for discrimination based on age discrimination in hiring, termination, privileges, and appraisal.
An employee who quits can’t sue an employer
It is a common misconception that when an employee quits, the person can’t file a lawsuit against an employer. There are occasions when an employee feels the only resort is to quit due to factors like intolerable or dangerous work conditions or a hostile work environment. An employee may quit and then still sue the employer. Even when an employee feels coerced into quitting, he or she can file a wrongful termination claim.
Whistleblowers are always fired
Depending on the laws of the state, an employee who brings an employer’s wrongdoing to light as a whistleblower is protected. Firing a whistleblower in certain states is regarded as retaliation and is unlawful.
For instance, a school district that fires a teacher for reporting unsafe school conditions or corruption in school finances cannot be fired as retaliation because whistleblower statutes protect public employees.
Dismissal was unfair so a win is guaranteed
No case is perfect and a good employment attorney will usually play devil’s advocate in order to identify weaknesses in a case. Learning about any weaknesses in a case early on can help to determine whether a case is truly worth pursuing, and if so, how to present the facts in the best possible way. What an employee and an employer regard as unfair may be completely different and the legal definition of wrongful dismissal is what matters.
Employees may say their case is not about money but about justice. Whether an employee wins, loses, or settles a case out of court, an employer is unlikely to admit making a mistake. However, depending upon the situation, damages available to wrongfully dismissed employees can include reinstatement, compensatory damages, attorneys’ fees, back pay, and punitive damages.