Being fired is one of the most stressful life situations you can go through, but if you are wrongfully terminated, then the stress factor is likely to be tenfold. It is therefore important to take care of yourself throughout the process and ask friends and professionals for help. Wrongful termination can happen to anyone for a variety of reasons.
However, there are laws in place to protect you from being dismissed without proper cause whether you work in the public or private sector.
Whatever the circumstance of your termination, it is worth investigating whether your termination was lawful and if you might be able to take further action. In many states, there is the “at will” clause that protects employers and virtually allows them to dismiss you without cause. However, the law protects workers from discrimination and the “at will” rules may be negated if your employer violated one of the at-will employment exceptions. To help you understand more about wrongful termination, here is some invaluable information to assist you in dealing with the situation.
What is wrongful termination?
If you are an employee without a contract or a bargaining agreement with your employer, then legally you will have accepted the job as “employment at will.” This means neither you nor your employer needs grounds to terminate your position. What makes a job termination wrongful?
Quite simply, the term wrongful termination means either an employer has illegally dismissed an employee or the company policy has been violated when the employee was terminated.
Being fired from a job may result in not qualifying for unemployment benefits. However, if you are able to prove wrongful termination, then you may file against your former employer. If you have been let go by your employer and you think it may have been an unfair dismissal, then you need to know what constitutes wrongful termination. Being dismissed by your employer can be an act of wrongful termination when:
- The termination violated state anti-discrimination laws.
- You were fired because you filed a claim or complaint against your employer.
- Your termination violated written and oral employment agreements.
- Your dismissal was in violation of labor laws.
- You were fired due to the employer’s sexual harassment.
- The employer asked you to commit an illegal act.
- Your employer let you go because of your whistleblowing.
You will also be able to take action against your employer if you were fired for refusing to follow orders that would have resulted in discrimination or you complained about genuine harassment or discrimination.
Being Fired Because of Discrimination
If you were fired because of proven discrimination, then you will have been wrongfully terminated. Discrimination can take many forms. It is illegal to dismiss you because of protected characteristics like age, gender or race. Protected characteristics are important, especially age in cases of workers changing careers at 50 years of age.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission can help you. It is a federal agency that strives to create equal opportunity in the workplace. It does this by enforcing federal civil rights laws and giving technical and educational help. The commission can assist most employees of private companies, educational institutions, local and state governments, labor organizations and employment agencies. Equal Employment Opportunity laws protect employees against discrimination, harassment and unfair treatment in relation to:
- Race, color or ethnic or national origin: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 188 of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 means you cannot be discriminated against because of your race, color, national origin and other factors.
- Disability: You may not be fired due to a disability under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Titles I and II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Religion: You are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 188 of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998.
- Sex: You are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 188 of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
- Age: Certain employees older than 40 years of age are protected by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.
- Pregnancy: Being let go because you are pregnant is a discrimination covered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces federal laws.
If you were fired for any of those reasons, then it will have been a wrongful termination. Unfortunately, not all employers are required to abide by Equal Employment Opportunity laws, namely small businesses. Employers are required to have a particular number of employees to be covered by those laws, and that number differs depending on the specific employer, such as whether the employer is a private business or a governmental agency.
What action can you take?
If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated, then you can pursue legal action against your former employer as part of your reemployment plan. You may be entitled to monetary damages or, if you have not yet been officially let go from your position, you may be able to negotiate for a severance package or compensation. Make sure you pursue wrongful termination if you qualify. It is not just about justice for yourself and gaining fair compensation. It is also about not letting your employers get away with illegal or unjust behavior.
The first thing to do is get to know the wrongful discharge laws for your particular state, as the laws can vary. Contact your State Labor Office to find out what the state laws are. You should also get the ball rolling quickly because different states have different deadlines for claims. The State Labor Office can also help you seek legal counsel. It is not wise to file a complaint without an attorney’s assistance, so make sure you follow the proper channels if you want to succeed with your legal action. You can obtain free consultations from many attorneys, but you should be informed about the attorney’s fees and experience before the initial consultation and thereafter.
If you are fired from a position in the public sector or the government, then you have additional protection from the Constitution. Federal, state and local workers are all protected. Under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, it is prohibited for the government to deprive anyone of “life, liberty or property” without it first being processed by law. Employees are also protected under the First Amendment. You cannot be fired for opinions expressed at work if it is not a matter of public concern, either in written or spoken form.