Whether it’s due to a personality clash with your boss, a misunderstanding, or something else entirely, being fired from a job can feel like a personal affront. You may even fear that prospective employers will view you as difficult to work with and so be reluctant to offer you another job in the future. Fortunately, there are legal protections that place checks and balances on an employer's ability to end an employee's employment at their own whim.
A wrongful termination lawsuit asserts that the termination was illegal because it violated some type of contract or statutory rights. This article answers some common questions about wrongful termination lawsuits and explains how such cases work if you find yourself in this unfortunate situation.
When an employer terminates an employee in violation of a state or federal statute or regulation, it’s known as wrongful termination. This is a violation of labor laws and can give the terminated employee the right to sue their former employer. To find out if you were wrongfully terminated, you need to know if your employer fired you for an illegal reason.
A few examples of justifiable reasons are theft, assault, failure to follow company policy, attendance issues, or extreme and repeated negligence. There are exceptions to this rule, and some cases where firing an employee was unjustified. These include firing someone for refusing to break the law, making complaints about safety and working conditions, because of an employee’s race or gender, and for reasons relating to the employee being over 40.
Many states have at-will employment, meaning that, generally speaking, you can be fired at any time for any reason except an illegal reason.
There are lots of reasons why an employer might fire you unfairly. To win a wrongful termination lawsuit, you’ll need to prove that your employer fired you for an illegal reason. This is not easy to do, and the burden of proof is placed on you as the plaintiff. As a result, it’s often hard to win these types of lawsuits.
Before you decide to sue for wrongful termination, there are a few things you should know first. First, you’ll need to make sure you have a good case. You have to prove that you were fired in violation of a state or federal statute or regulation, and that’s no easy task.
Additionally, an excellent attorney-client relationship would be helpful in winning the case.
If you have a written employment contract, it may guarantee certain rights to you. For example, if your contract states that you have a certain term of employment, your employer has to respect that term unless they can show cause for your dismissal.
Some employment contracts are implied rather than written. An implied contract is one that is not written down but rather arises from the circumstances of the employment relationship.
If your employer promised not to terminate you for a certain reason and then terminates you for that reason, you might have a valid wrongful termination lawsuit.
In addition to written and verbal promises, an employment contract may also include expectations of good faith and fair dealing on both sides. A common example is that if you were promised a year-end bonus if you achieved certain results, but you are terminated before the end of the year, so your employer does not have to pay you the bonus. You may have a valid wrongful termination suit if your employer violated these expectations. Good faith and fair dealing are flexible concepts open to interpretation in court.
Many state and federal laws grant employees protection from retaliation for reporting wrongdoing at their place of employment. If you are fired for reporting illegal or unsafe practices or refusing to break the law, you could have a valid wrongful termination lawsuit.
Sexual harassment is a violation of your rights, often accompanied by wrongful termination. If you were sexually harassed at your workplace and then fired for reporting the harassment or refusing to put up with it, you may have a valid wrongful termination lawsuit.
To prove wrongful termination lawsuit based on sexual harassment, you must prove that your employer knew about the harassment and did not take action to stop it. You must also show that you were fired for taking action against the harassment rather than for a different underlying reason that you were fired.
Every state has a body of law known as public policy that prohibits certain behavior and contracts. For example, a state might have a law that bans an employer from firing an employee for taking time off to care for a sick child. If your employer fired you for violating a public policy, you could have a valid wrongful termination lawsuit.
Many state and federal laws prohibit employers from discriminating against employees based on race and national origin. If your employer fired you for your race, you might have a valid wrongful termination lawsuit.
If you must prove that your employer fired you for your race, you must show that race was a substantial motivating reason for your termination. For example, if your employer fired you for poor performance, but you believe that you were fired because of your race, you might have a valid wrongful termination case.
If your employer failed to pay you the required minimum wage or failed to pay you overtime wages that you are legally entitled to, you might have a valid wrongful termination lawsuit. Employers must pay the federal or state minimum wage to all employees.
Employers must also pay employees time and a half for any hours worked over 40 in a given week or for more than 8 hours worked in a day in California. If your employer failed to pay you these required wages, you might have a valid wrongful termination lawsuit.
Many state and federal laws prohibit employers from discriminating against employees based on their known disability.
If you must prove that your employer fired you for your disability, you must show that your disability was a substantial motivating reason for your termination. For example, if your employer fired you for poor performance, but you believe that you were fired because of your disability, you might have a valid wrongful termination claim.
As a general rule, the more wronged you feel you are, the more money you can demand in compensation. Unfortunately, there are no set amounts for wrongful termination claims. That’s because there are no set standards for determining how much money you should get in these types of lawsuits.
What you can expect, however, is that the compensation you receive in a wrongful termination lawsuit will depend greatly on the strength of your case.
Wrongful termination lawsuits are complex and often require extensive legal discovery and expert testimony. To prove a claim for wrongful termination, you must fit your circumstances into one of the following categories:
- The termination violated a contract or an implied contract of employment.
- You were fired for an illegal reason.
- You were fired for a reason that is not justified.
- You were fired for an unlawful reason.
These categories are not mutually inclusive, meaning you can claim wrongful termination under any of them.
Wrongful termination lawsuits are serious, complex cases, so don’t rush into it without thinking about your options. The best way to proceed is to follow a strategy that attacks your employer on every legal front possible. However, you must act quickly, or you might lose your right to a legal remedy.
Undoubtedly, being fired from a job can be frustrating and disappointing. However, suppose you think that you were wrongfully terminated. In that case, you can take action to try to get the situation corrected and be compensated for any losses you may have incurred as a result. Make sure to consult with an attorney before taking any drastic steps, as these may help resolve the dispute.
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