Employees can file a wrongful termination claim in a court of law if they believe their employers have legally fired them. Such a claim can stem from an alleged violation of state or federal anti-discrimination or employment contract laws. They can also file a claim if the termination was due to sexual harassment or in response to a workers’ compensation claim or a complaint.
It seems pretty simple, right? After all, wrongful always means unfair. However, it isn’t legally the case. It must be devastating for an employee to lose their job for no reason. Usually, it boils down to a difference of opinion – how employees perceive their work abilities vs. how employers measure job performance.
Myths about wrongful termination
Below are seven misconceptions or myths employees have about wrongful termination:
- If employees quit, they can no longer sue their employer.
This is a common misconception – if an employee resigns, they can no longer file a wrongful termination claim. There are times when the workplace is too hostile for employees. Sometimes, it’s intolerable and dangerous that they’re left with the one option – quitting. In such cases, they can sue the employer.
Even if the employee submits a resignation letter, they can still file a wrongful termination lawsuit.
- Unreasonable termination counts as wrongful termination.
If your employment is on an at-will basis, especially in California, where the legal principle is employment at will, you can lose your job at any time. It may sound harsh, but the employer can fire you without a valid reason. They can fire you for simple reasons like taking a break or calling your mom during work hours.
Without an employment contract between the employer and you, you can practically lose your job for whatever reason. Unless a contract is in place that requires a cause for termination, the employee can file a wrongful termination claim.
However, it becomes a whole different story if it involves discrimination. Federal and state employment laws like anti-discrimination are applicable even in at-will states. You can hold the employer liable for such a violation.
- Employees cannot establish losing a job for speaking against an illegal practice at the workplace.
Employees may be able to prove that they lost their job for exposing an illegal activity at the workplace. For example, there was an instance in 2018 where a former banker sued a company for wrongful termination.
Federal and state laws protect whistleblowers against retaliation. Therefore, employers cannot punish workers who report wrongdoings or illegal practices within the company.
- Termination is legal if an employee publicly expresses their political inclinations.
Employees have the freedom to express their political views in the workplace. However, this is only true for those who work in one of four states: California, Connecticut, Louisiana, and South Carolina. These states have laws protecting an employee’s right to express their political inclinations.
Other states also provide legal protections to employees who attend political rallies or endorse politicians. However, they must speak with an employment law attorney if they want to know if they can qualify for a possible wrongful termination claim.
- Workplace discrimination laws only apply to women and minorities.
Discrimination laws protect every person with a unique gender, religion, race, citizenship status, marital status, natural origin, or medical history – pretty much everyone in the country. Anyone can experience discrimination in the workplace regardless of their sexuality or race.
If an employee loses their job because of their race, sexuality, medical condition, religion, disability, etc., they can bring this to court and file a wrongful termination case.
- The employment law protects employees who reach a certain age.
There’s no doubt that age discrimination is common. However, if you think that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 protects employees who are older than 40 years, you are wrong. This act only protects applicants and employees qualified under a set of standards. The law protects those under a private employer who hires more than 20 workers for at least 20 weeks per year.
If you qualify under the ADEA, you can sue the company for discrimination based on termination, employment, appraisal, and benefits.
- Employers care about their reputation, so they will quickly settle.
If the wrongful termination claim doesn’t have a basis, or if it lacks solid evidence, employees cannot expect the company to settle so easily. Publicity isn’t always a major concern for large-scale companies. After all, incidents such as this usually don’t end up in local newspapers unless it involves a celebrity or a public figure.
Identifying what counts as wrongful termination
There are different reasons employees lose their jobs, but only a few would count as unlawful under the employment laws. One of the most common forms is firing based on discrimination. There are laws protecting employees from being fired based on discriminatory reasons – sex, race, color, age, religion, or national origin. Employees cannot punish or fire workers who engage in certain protected activities, like filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or taking permitted medical leaves.
Employees can file a claim if the firing violates the terms of their contract. Written employment contracts and statements assure employees of benefits and job security. Contracts also have specific termination procedures companies must follow when terminating an employee. In cases where a contract is in place, an employer can only terminate an employee for reasons that do not go against the contract. An example of this would be if their employees do not meet certain performance requirements. If the termination is unlawful, then it is a violation of the contract, and employees can file a lawsuit.
In the end, termination is only wrongful if it is legally wrong. But some people misunderstand what wrongful termination is. It is best to consult an attorney if you have lost your job for this reason. If proven, you will be entitled to financial compensation or reinstatement. Contact a reputable attorney who will listen to and evaluate your case. They will investigate the ramifications of your employer’s actions. Finally, they will recommend a strategic plan to win your case.