If you’ve just been fired from your job, you may be wondering if you can build a wrongful termination case. Perhaps your employer asked you to do something illegal, or perhaps they have engaged in discrimination when firing you. Before building your case, ensure you know exactly what qualifies as wrongful termination. If you find yourself in this situation, you’re likely wondering “What do I do if I was wrongfully terminated?” That’s a perfectly valid question, and Morgan & Morgan is here to help. We have attorneys who can review your case with you to determine if you were fired on the basis of unlawful reasons. If we believe you were, we can take your case on and you will only pay us if we win or settle your case. Contact Morgan & Morgan today for a free consultation.
What Qualifies as Wrongful Termination?
In all states, employees cannot be fired on the basis of discrimination or harassment of their gender, disability status, religion, race, or ethnicity. If you have a contract that states specific circumstances in which you can be fired, and your employer fires you for a different reason, you may have a case for wrongful termination. Additionally, if an employer asks you to do an illegal task and you refuse, you cannot legally be fired for your refusal. If an employer did something illegal and you reveal this, your employer cannot fire you as retaliation. An employer also may not fire you for making a legal complaint against them.
You may be wondering what classifies as legal reasons to terminate an employee. Almost all reasons outside of the ones listed above may be legal, such as a reduction in the workforce, a company going out of business, an employee’s poor performance, or an action that was the fault of the employee. Employers can even fire you for no reason at all, per at-will employment laws.
When considering your own case of termination, ask yourself questions about the circumstances surrounding your termination. If you feel you have been discriminated against, ensure you collect evidence, such as a written statement that could indicate your employer discriminated against you. If there was a breach of contract, ensure you can prove the contract was breached and retain your original contract. This can help you build and prove your case.
Cases for wrongful termination can get complicated in at-will employment states. All states follow at-will employment, which simply means that an employer can fire an employee for any legal reason as outlined above or no reason at all. This rule can make building a case for wrongful termination complicated, unless you have concrete proof of the actions outlined above. Some states, however, have distinctive exceptions to the at-will employment rule that may make your case easier to prove.
Exceptions to At-Will Employment
In all states except Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska, New York, and Rhode Island, a rule called the public-policy exception applies to at-will employment. What this rule signifies is that an employee is wrongfully fired when the termination violates a well-established public policy of the state in which they work. This public policy could be outlined in a state constitution, administrative rule, statute, or another type of state policy. One example of this exception is that an employer cannot fire an employee for filing a workers’ compensation claim when the employee is injured at work.
Another exception that all states use except for Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, and Virginia is the implied-contract exception. This means that when an employer hires an employee, an implied contract exists, even if there is no explicit, written contract. If an employer makes verbal or written statements to their employee about job security or disciplinary procedures, this counts as an implied contract. Some other examples could include policies in an employee handbook, unless a waiver in the handbook states that the handbook does not create any contractual rights. Many handbooks simply state that their company follows at-will employment, but make sure you peruse your own employee handbook to see if there are different circumstances for termination.
A final exception that only 11 states follow, including Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Delaware, Idaho, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming, is the covenant of good faith exception. This means one of two things: that a company’s personnel decisions are subject to a “just cause” standard or that firings in bad faith or motivated by malice are not allowed. For example, if an employer does not properly follow its stated personnel policies in a covenant of good-faith state, the employee terminated could have a case for wrongful termination.
Statutes of Limitations for Wrongful Termination
Although it may be stressful dealing with a wrongful termination case in addition to figuring out your future employment situation, you must be aware of the statute of limitations for wrongful termination cases in your state. If you do not file a lawsuit in time, you forfeit the right to damages.
Every state’s statute of limitation differs. All states have at least one year for their statute of limitations, but some states’ statute of limitations can be up to 10 years. Ensure you know the statute of limitations in your state before building your case.