Have you ever been fired? It can feel personal—especially if you don’t fully understand the reason for your termination. But in the United States, most forms of employment are considered at-will employment, which means that the employer can fire or demote an employee at any time.
With that being said, some circumstances qualify as wrongful termination. For example, if your firing violates anti-discrimination laws or breaches a contract, it’s considered to be a wrongful termination.
If you believe that you have a case for wrongful termination, contact an attorney. You need to understand and defend your rights.
You can schedule a free case evaluation with a Morgan & Morgan attorney by filling out our easy-to-use online form. Keep reading to learn more about your rights and how to fight wrongful termination.
Understanding Whether You Need a Wrongful Termination Attorney
Because every firing feels personal, it can be hard to determine for yourself whether the termination was wrongful or not. And you can’t learn how to fight wrongful termination if you aren’t sure you even have a case.
For this reason, it can be very beneficial to speak with an attorney about your situation and gain a third-party perspective. However, it helps to enter that conversation with a basic understanding of your rights.
Here are a few of the reasons your case might qualify for a wrongful termination claim:
Your Employment Contract Was Violated
Some employees sign an employment contract when they start a new job. If you did, and your employer violated the terms of that contract, you may have a case for wrongful termination. An attorney can help you evaluate the document more closely.
The Employee Discipline Policy Was Violated
If your employer had a standard procedure for disciplining employees and that standard was not met in your case, you might have been wrongfully terminated. This discipline policy would constitute an implied contract between you and your employer.
You Were Fired in Retaliation
If you were fired after reporting sexual harassment or filing a workers’ compensation claim, your termination might have been in retaliation for that action. Those types of situations would be considered wrongful termination and require the help of an attorney.
There Is a History of Differential Treatment
Were you terminated because of job performance problems? If you were and you can prove that other employees were given more leniency for similar problems, you could have a case for wrongful termination. This can be a complicated avenue to follow, so it’s best to speak with an attorney about the specifics.
Evaluating Your Employment Contract
One common reason for wrongful termination is the violation of an employment contract. But you need to be certain whether a contract exists in your case. Before determining whether this was wrongful termination, you need to locate and evaluate your employment contract.
Here’s how to start. First, take a look at all of the documentation you obtained upon your hiring.
These documents could be in the form of an email or printed document. If there are clauses that define the reasons the employer may terminate you, pay careful attention to those. Failure to adhere to the employment contract could make your employer guilty of wrongful termination.
Most employee contracts are written, but your contract may be oral if your employer promised certain rights upon your hiring. In either case, it helps to have an attorney on your side.
The Steps for Building Your Wrongful Termination Case
Of course, knowing that you have been wrongfully terminated and proving that fact in court are two different ideas. If you want to know how to fight wrongful termination, you must be willing and able to do quite a bit of groundwork first.
As we mentioned earlier, it’s legal for an employer to fire you without reason in most states. If you want to prove that the termination was unlawful, start with these six steps:
Compile Any Employment Documents
Proving wrongful termination requires, well—proof. So before you do anything else, take the time to gather all of the employment documentation you can find. This might include:
- Pay stubs
- Your employment agreement
- Your personnel file
- The employee handbook
- Union contracts
- Job performance evaluations
- The letter of termination
As mentioned earlier, it is possible to argue that you and your employer had an oral contract. But without some kind of physical documentation to back up your claim, this can be hard to prove. Scour any work memos or job-related emails that support your case of an oral agreement.
Document the Wrongful Termination
From the moment you receive your termination notice, it’s wise to begin documenting your experience. Take a moment to sit down and think about the events leading up to and following your firing. Grab your laptop or a pen and paper to make notes of everything you remember.
We recommend that you:
- Draw up a timeline of events going back as long before the termination as needed
- Document any positive feedback or evaluations that took place verbally or electronically
- Write down the names and positions of everyone who was involved in the buildup to your termination
- Document how, when, and where the act of termination took place and include any relevant names
During times of stress, it can be difficult to remember every tiny detail. But these details may end up making or breaking your case. For that reason, we recommend that you write down and document any relevant events as soon as they happen. If you wait, you might forget some important details.
Identify Signs of Discrimination
Federal law protects you from being fired for discriminatory reasons. If you have any reason to believe that your employer broke these laws in the process of your termination, it’s important to identify and document the problem immediately.
Discrimination is often subtle and can take many forms. If someone comments about your age, race, religious beliefs, disability, pregnancy, or gender in the workplace, make sure to let your attorney know.
Each state has additional laws that may further clarify your employment rights. Make sure to speak with an attorney who understands local and federal laws regarding these subjects.
Remember, even if your employer purports to have a “legitimate” reason for terminating you, discrimination may still have been a factor. Speak with coworkers to see if anyone knows more about your case and the true motives behind your firing.
Speak With an Attorney
If you’ve made it this far without calling an attorney, it may be time to do so. A third-party professional can help you evaluate the facts of the case without bias or personal feelings getting in the way.
With an attorney on your side, you’ll be able to navigate the complicated field of wrongful termination laws. You will also increase your odds of obtaining a fair settlement for the damages done to you.
Odds are, if you faced discrimination in the workplace, you weren’t alone. Speak with your former coworkers to gather more evidence and details regarding workplace discrimination. If you can prove there was a pattern of bad behavior and wrongful termination, you’ll have a better chance of winning your case.
If you believe you were unfairly singled out, interviewing coworkers can further prove your point. Establishing that differential treatment took place will go a long way in winning your wrongful termination claim.
File the Claim on Time
Keep in mind that most states have a statute of limitations for wrongful termination claims. Usually, you have three to six years to file a successful claim. If you miss the deadline, you could forfeit the validity of your claim. That’s why it’s best to call an attorney early on in the process.