If you were recently terminated from your place of employment, you might be wondering under what circumstances you can pursue a wrongful termination lawsuit. You first need to have a good understanding of wrongful termination in order to know if you have any legitimate legal claims against your previous employer. There are many instances in which pursuing a wrongful termination lawsuit may be in your best interest, so it is important to have a solid understanding of the law. In this post, learn the basics of wrongful termination and find out when it is okay to pursue a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Fired vs. Laid off
The quick rule of thumb is that if you were fired from your employer you may have fewer options when it comes to legitimate legal claims against your employer. This is because, in general, most workers are considered employees “at will” which means that you can quit whenever you want. However, that protection extends to employers as well and allows your employer to fire you just as easily as you can quit. However, this only applies if the reasoning behind the firing is legal.
You can be fired for objective reasons such as underperforming in your position or being habitually late or absent from work. However, being an employee “at will” also means that you can be fired for subjective reasons. For example, you can be fired for simply not being a good fit in the workplace. With that said, not every firing is legal.
Defining Wrongful Termination
To know if you can pursue a wrongful termination lawsuit, you should first have a good understanding of what constitutes wrong termination. It is defined as firing an employee under illegal circumstances. Common examples of wrongful terminations include the following:
- Retaliation. You cannot be fired on the basis of having raised concerns related to such things as workplace safety, harassment, illegal behavior, or discrimination.
- Discrimination. You cannot be fired on the basis of color, national origin, religion, disability, race, sex, age or genetic information. This list is not exhaustive and is often governed further by local and state laws where other categories are also protected. These categories might include gender identity, marital status and sexual orientation.
- Public Policy Violation. Depending on the state, it can be illegal for you to be fired on grounds that could be considered morally wrong. Examples of this include exercising your right to vote, reporting wrongdoing, or refusing to perform unethical or illegal acts.
Keep in mind this list is not exhaustive, and ‘wrongful termination’ may apply to a variety of less-than-straightforward cases. For example, you may also have grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit on the basis of breach of contract. While many employees are employees “at will”, that is not the case for everyone. You may have had a contract with your employer. If you did, it is likely the contract stated under what circumstances you could be fired. If you were not fired under one of those circumstances, you may have a case for breach of employment contract.
When to Consider Legal Representation
If you believe you could have been fired under illegal circumstances, you may want to think about speaking with a lawyer. Doing so can give you clarity as it relates to whether or not you have a potential claim against your previous employer. If you do, a lawyer can help identify your options for next steps. Some of these include demanding a settlement, negotiating for a severance package, filing administrative charges, or going so far as to pursue a wrongful termination lawsuit.
There are some instances in which we strongly encourage you to reach out for legal assistance and advice. These include:
- Actions or statements were made that would suggest you were fired on the basis of discrimination.
- You previously filed a complaint related to harassment or discrimination.
- You recently shared that you were part of a protected class. An example of this would be that you recently shared with management or co-workers that you were pregnant.
- You took advantage of one of your legal rights such as using Family and Medical Leave or exercising your right to vote.
- You voiced concerns about wrongdoing in the workplace such as hazardous conditions.
- You were very close to receiving benefits from your employer, such as receiving retirement money or stock options
- Your being fired changed the demographic landscape of the workplace setting. Examples of this would be if you were previously the only woman who worked there or the only person of color.
- You were under contract that limited the circumstances under which you could be fired.
Under these circumstances, you may or may not have been fired illegally. To be sure, we encourage you to reach out for legal assistance. Regardless of whether you want to pursue a lawsuit or not, a lawyer can help you to access your rights and determine how to proceed moving forward. The Brown Firm offers a team of employment law attorneys who can review your situation and rights and offer assistance on your wrongful termination case. Contact us today to find out more!