Wrongful Termination Law
What is Wrongful Termination Law?
Wrongful termination law provides the rules for determining whether the firing of an employee was proper, and the remedies available if it was not. This area of the law is primarily concerned with violations of express or implied employment contracts. In other words, these cases focus on whether the employer was free to let the employee go, or if the termination was contrary to an agreement between the employer and the employee. While discrimination in the workplace based on sex, race, national origin, and other such characteristics can certainly lead to wrongful termination, those types of claims are usually classified as a separate legal topic known as Title VII law (because they are based on protections found in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964).
The “Employment at Will” Doctrine
At the center of nearly all wrongful termination controversies is the employment at will doctrine. Adopted by most states, this doctrine creates a presumption that employers and employees are not bound to the employment relationship by anything more than their voluntary desire to continue the relationship. Either one may end the employment at any time, with or without cause. This is in stark contrast to the law in other countries, which requires employers to have a sufficient reason for terminating an employee.
Even in the United States, however, the doctrine has been tempered in some jurisdictions by a “good faith and fair dealing” provision that prohibits employers from taking advantage of an employee’s at-will status. For example, an employer could be held liable for firing a worker on the eve of a bonus merely to avoid paying the bonus. It is also important to understand that the employment at will doctrine is only a presumption. It can be overcome by evidence of an agreement that either party was not free to terminate the employment in the absence of just cause, or for a specific period of time, or without following certain disciplinary procedures, etc.
Sometimes an employer will enter into written contracts with workers expressly stating the terms and conditions of employment. Clearly, the provisions of such a contract will supersede the employment at will doctrine. But other times, an employer may simply make verbal statements on the subject. If employees justifiably rely on the statements as a promise of continued employment, an implied employment contract has been created by operation of law. Similarly, employers may unintentionally create a contract by distributing employee handbooks or other documents setting forth company policy relating to termination.
Consider the example of a boss who grows tired of her workers arriving to work late. She passes out a memo explaining that any worker who is tardy three times will be fired. The very next morning a worker arrives late. Despite the fact that the worker had previously been late only once, the boss terminates the worker, stating that she has a right to do so pursuant to the employment at will doctrine. The boss’s assertion is incorrect. By passing out the memo, she created an implied employment contract, and the worker can bring a claim for wrongful termination.
Actual vs. Constructive Discharge
In the field of wrongful termination law, it is quite common for an employer’s conduct to take on legal significance that the employer did not intend. In fact, an employer may even terminate an employee without realizing it. When an employer causes working conditions to become so intolerable that an employee quits in response, the employee’s resignation will be treated as a termination. This is known as a constructive discharge. If the employee had a contractual right to continued employment, the employer can be held liable. The concept of a constructive discharge is really just a way for the legal system to hold employers accountable when they try to get rid of employees in a disingenuous manner.
Pursuing a Wrongful Termination Claim
Those who believe they may have a claim for wrongful termination must first understand that statutes of limitation apply to these cases. Statutes of limitation are rules regarding how much time may pass between an employee’s discharge and the initiation of a lawsuit. Thus, by waiting to speak with an attorney, claimants may become ineligible for relief. Furthermore, it is often necessary to submit a claim to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) before filing a lawsuit. These and other procedural issues can become problems for anyone unfamiliar with wrongful termination law. As with any complex legal matter, retaining an attorney is highly recommended.
Contact an Attorney to Learn More
If you have been fired from your job in a way that seems unfair, you may have a right to financial compensation or other relief. To learn if you can bring a claim, gather all documentation you have relating to the incident, and schedule a visit with an employment lawyer near you.
Know Your Rights!
Articles About Wrongful Termination Law
- Office Depot Whistleblowers CaseA whistle blower complaint filed by an Office Depot employee has resulted in a large settlement for the state of California.
- Three Important, Commonly Misunderstood Concepts in California Employment LawDefining and discussing three of the most important and commonly misunderstood terms in California employment law - wrongful termination, discrimination, and harassment/hostile work environment.
- Securities and Exchange Commission’s Whistleblower Program Is No JokeThe Securities & Exchange Commission's whistleblower program is proving itself to be a force to be reckoned with.
- Reasons For Being A WhistleblowerWhistleblowers don't normally report fraud for financial gain - they report it because they've been wrongfully retaliated against.
- Increased Amount of Securities Exchange Commission Whistleblower CasesThe Securities Exchange Commission has investigated over 686 whistleblower cases in this year alone - the highest amount since 2011.
- Potential Bigger Rewards For Wall Street WhistleblowersAttorney General Holder proposes an increased cap for awards to Wall Street whistleblowers.
- How Do I Know If I Have Been Wrongfully Terminated?If you are a victim of wrongful termination, you may have a case against your former employer. A successful lawsuit may mean that you have the right to recover back pay, statutory damages and expenses that you incurred to find another job.
- Wrongfully Terminated UC Davis Whistleblower Awarded $730,000Whistleblower Janet Keyzer awarded $730,000 after being wrongfully terminated for reporting unethical research methods used at UC Davis.
- Handling Wrongful Termination and Other Employee Claims: A California Employer’s GuideIt is common knowledge that lawsuits brought by current or former employees are generally bad for an employer’s business. Employee lawsuits not only disrupt the daily operations within the company or organization, but they also are extremely costly to defend.
- Navigating the FMLA Minefield: Seven Common Mistakes Employers MakeThe Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (“FMLA”) provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to an eligible employee for his or her own serious health condition or the serious health condition or military service of a family member.[i]
- All Employment and Labor Law Articles
Wrongful Termination Law - US
- ABA - Section of Labor and Employment Law
The Section of Labor and Employment Law is your link to information that matters to you. Our 22,000+ members represent all perspectives of labor and employment law: employer, union, employee, public, and neutral. All are committed to a balanced discussion of employment issues in the United States and abroad.
- At-will Employment and Employment Termination - Wikipedia
- Constructive Discharge Law
Constructive discharge is generally when working conditions are so intolerable as to amount to a firing, despite a lack of a formal termination notice.
- Filing A Charge of Wrongful Dismissal for Discrimination
If you believe that you have been discriminated against at work because of your race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information, you can file a Charge of Discrimination.
- International Labor Organization - United States Employment Termination
The United States is one of the few countries in the world that still embraces the employment at-will concept.
- National Labor Relations Act
Congress enacted the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA") in 1935 to protect the rights of employees and employers, to encourage collective bargaining, and to curtail certain private sector labor and management practices, which can harm the general welfare of workers, businesses and the U.S. economy.
- United States Department of Labor - Termination Issues
Upon termination of employment, some workers and their families (who might otherwise lose their health benefits) have the right to choose to continue group health benefits provided by their group health plan for limited periods of time.
- USDOJ - Employment Litigation Section
The Employment Litigation Section enforces against state and local government employers the provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended "Title VII", and other federal laws prohibiting employment practices that discriminate on grounds of race, sex, religion, and national origin.
- Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN)
The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) protects workers, their families, and communities by requiring most employers with 100 or more employees to provide notification 60 calendar days in advance of plant closings and mass layoffs.
- Wrongful Discharge - American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
There are 80 million people employed in the private sector of the American economy. Only about 20 million of these are union members protected from unjust dismissal by collective bargaining agreements. The remaining 60 million are employed "at will".
- Wrongful Discharge - Overview
An at-will employee's Cause of Action against his former employer, alleging that his discharge was in violation of state or federal antidiscrimination statutes, public policy, an implied contract, or an implied Covenant of Good Faith and fair dealing.