Yes, you can file a lawsuit, but only if the employer broke the law when they fired you. Generally, you may be able to file a wrongful termination lawsuit against your employer if they fired you for any of the following reasons:
Your employer cannot fire you for engaging in certain protected activities at the workplace. Examples of such activities include:
- Filing a complaint about discrimination in the workplace
- Collaborating with investigators regarding an employer's conduct
- Intervening to protect others from being mistreated at the workplace
- Resisting harassment at the workplace
If you suspect that your employer fired you for any of the above reasons, or anything along those lines, you may be able to file a lawsuit against them. However, for the lawsuit to succeed, you'll also need to prove that:
- you participated in a legally protected activity;
- the legally protected activity was the primary cause of your employer's decision to fire you; and
- you suffered adverse consequences due to your employer's actions.
Although employers can fire you at will, the decision to fire you shouldn't be based on discrimination. Employment laws prohibit employers from discriminating against employees due to their:
- Sexual orientation
- Marital status
- Pregnancy-related reasons
- Military status
These conditions are usually known as protected classes. Each state has its unique employment laws with certain protected classes. For example, in New York, an employer can't fire you because of any of the protected classes mentioned above or if you have a prior arrest or conviction record.
However, like other wrongful termination cases, when your employer fires you due to discrimination at the workplace, you must first file a complaint with the state or federal government. This is the only way you may be able to file a lawsuit against that particular employer.
Public Policy Violations
An employer cannot fire you for reasons that violate public policies. These are the kinds of reasons that the public considers illegitimate grounds for firing an employee. For example, your employer cannot legally fire you if you:
- disclose certain illegal activities within the company;
- take time off to serve to attend jury duty;
- take time off work to vote; or
- take time off work to serve in the National Guard or military.
Breach of Fair Dealing
It's illegal for an employer to fire you out of bad faith. For instance, some employers might fire you to prevent you from earning certain commissions you were eligible for. Unfortunately, this is something that happens in many workplaces across the country.
Other examples of breach of fair dealing include:
- Employers misleading their employees about their eligibility for salary increases or promotions
- Deliberately creating unfavorable working conditions for an employee, hoping to coerce them into quitting
- Making up false reasons to fire an employee while the actual reason is to replace them with someone willing to work for a lower salary
If your employer promised you “permanent employment,” they can't fire you unless there's a specific reason that overwrites the agreement. However, this is usually difficult because most employers don't make such promises when entering into an employment agreement with an employee.
In fact, most employers usually have experienced contract attorneys who review these contracts in advance. As a result, many lawyers wouldn't recommend the promise of permanent employment unless in rare circumstances.
In addition, to prove that the employer made such a promise, the ex-employee must provide evidence. This proof could be in the form of a written contract signed by both parties, a recorded meeting, etc.