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Wrongful Termination Overview

Being fired can be a devastating event. The sudden loss of income, benefits and security can trigger a cascade of issues in an employee’s personal and professional life. What can be even more devastating is when the termination occurs for reasons that were considered protected by law.

Wrongful termination can be hard to recognize and harder to demonstrate, but it is possible to prove to a court that an employee has been terminated when they should not have been or in a way that violated their rights. Whether it’s a breached contract, discrimination, or retaliation, this article explores the ways that a termination can be wrongful and, more importantly, what an employee can do about it.

What is Wrongful Termination?

Wrongful termination can be difficult to recognize. The default assumption in most places in America is that employees are employed at-will. Under at-will employment, a worker can be terminated for virtually any reason or without any given reason.

However, even under an at-will employment system, it is possible that a termination can become wrongful.  If a termination violates an employment contract, serves as retaliation against whistleblowers, is motivated by discrimination, breaks up unions, or is actually a constructive discharge, then the termination might actually be wrongful.

An employment contract is one of the only explicit contradictions to a claim of at-will employment. One of the key sections of an employment contract is the section on termination of the working relationship. This section will enumerate any of the conditions under which the employment contract may be terminated before its written conclusion. If an employee is fired for a reason that is not described in the contract, then the employer may be found to have wrongfully terminated the employee.

If an employer is discriminatory in their firings, that termination is very likely wrongful. Discriminatory firings could be explicit, such as firing all employees of a specific national origin, or it could be implicit, like firing employees for violating uniform policies by wearing garments or hairstyles mandated by their religion.

An at-will termination can also stray into trouble if it violates certain federal or state laws. The most common laws that may be violated by employers are laws protecting the formation of unions and the existence of whistleblowers.

A whistleblower is any individual who reports a workplace violation of state or federal laws. A whistleblower may make a report of discrimination, harassment, or a violation of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety regulations. Federal law protects an employee’s right to report these misdeeds and if an employee is terminated after they have reported their employer’s unsafe or illegal activities, that will likely be found to be a wrongful termination.

Similarly, employees have a right to unionize. This means that employers are not allowed to threaten, coerce, retaliate against, or fire workers for discussing the possibility of forming or joining a union. If an employee is fired for unionizing, that could be a violation of union protections and qualify as a wrongful termination.

Sometimes even if an employee quits it could be considered a wrongful termination. This is known as constructive discharge. Constructive discharge occurs whenever an employer intentionally creates working conditions that are so hostile that an employee is forced to quit rather than continue to endure the inhuman conditions. Factors that may indicate that an employee quitting was actually a constructive discharge may include forcing a worker to work a dangerous job without functioning safety equipment, forcing the worker to work excessive hours or long shifts with no breaks, reassigning an employee to perform the most laborious or difficult tasks without assistance, or any other circumstance in which a reasonable person would feel that the only possible solution would be to quit rather than endure the continued abuses of their employer.

What Can be Done About a Wrongful Termination?

Once it has been recognized, employees should seek to rectify their wrongful termination. While AAL does have a guide addressing what to do about a wrongful termination, some examples of actions that can be taken are discussed below. 

First, employees should gather and keep any and all evidence that can be found that they were wrongfully terminated. From email threads to violations of employment contracts to witness accounts, whatever proof can be assembled that demonstrates the illegal actions taken by the former employer can seriously bolster a wrongful termination case. 

Once all available evidence has been gathered, the appropriate authority should be contacted. If the issue is one of retaliation for reporting safety violations, OSHA should be contacted. If the termination was suspected to be discriminatorily based on the employee’s age, color, disability status, genetic information, national origin, race, religion, or sex, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) should be contacted.

Filing these reports allows the authorities to investigate the situation with their full power and authority. If the issue can be solved here, the employee may be reinstated with the potential to gain back pay for the time they were unemployed. If OSHA or the EEOC are unable resolve the issue, there is more that a wrongfully terminated employee can do.

If you have been wrongfully terminated from your position, whether through traditional firing or constructive discharge, you may be able to file a lawsuit in order to seek justice for the losses that you have suffered. By demonstrating the ways in which you have been terminated in violation of your rights, you may be able to receive compensation for your injuries. The best way to prevail in your lawsuit is with an Employment Law attorney.

An experienced Employment Law attorney can zealously advocate on your behalf in order to get you the best possible outcome for your case. Using their legal expertise, trial tactics, and expert witnesses, your Employment Law attorney will be able to gather evidence of your mistreatments such as email records and witness testimony and present that information in the most compelling way for your case.

Don’t wait, contact AAL today and begin your journey to justice.

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