Whether you see the writing on the wall for an impending layoff or you are let go without warning, you have rights to protect your emotional and financial well being. The entire process, from receiving the notice to making decisions about the future, is an emotional experience and the stress can get in the way of investigating any entitlements. A wrongful termination is worthy of continuing the fight for fair treatment. The decision to take action or move on has to be made objectively.
Who is Right?
If you are hit with a layoff notice, it is often difficult to see it from an unbiased point of view. Although you may feel wronged, the company may have, in fact, based the termination on completely legal grounds. What constitutes as a termination without just cause? It can be confusing when an employer has the right to fire an employee without reason, but federal and state employment laws are in place to protect workers regarding discrimination, whistleblowing, and layoffs.
What is Wrongful Termination?
A broad term, wrongful termination refers to any illegal reason given by an employer as an excuse to fire an employee. Three main reasons include discrimination, retaliation, and violation of public policy.
Employers are prohibited from letting go of workers based on race, color, country of origin, religion, sex, disability, heritage, or age. Variations among municipalities and states include marital status, sexual orientation, and gender identity in the list.
If an employee believes he has been the victim of harassment, discrimination, safety violations, wage inequities, or any other illegal activity from an employer and stands up for himself, he can not be fired for the retaliation.
Violation of public policy
This is where morals and ethics come to play in the workplace. An employer does not have legal grounds to fire a worker for reasons that society views as morally wrong. If an employee takes part in the legal right to vote, refuses to participate in an illegal act on company property, or reports fraud or theft and is fired for his actions, he can seek the advice of a lawyer and will have firm ground on which to stand.
What are the laws of protection?
State laws vary across the nation, but five federal laws are in place to safeguard all American employees who find themselves laid-off. Discrimination laws cover four of those, but basing a case around discrimination can be tricky. Employers have the right to fire an older worker making higher wages than his younger counterparts would be paid, and in turn, replace him with two minimum wage youth. To have grounds for a successful case, an employee would need evidence that he or she was let go due to being too old to perform the job.
The four federal discrimination laws protecting workers against wrongful termination include:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: states hiring and firing practices cannot be based on race, religion, sex, pregnancy or national origin
- Title I and Title V of the Americans with Disability Act of 1990: prohibits employment decisions based on employees with disabilities, including inequality in pay, job duties, advancement and training opportunities, and benefits
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967: provides all workers aged forty and older with wrongful termination protection
- The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act: gives workers forty and older additional time to review options for severance packages and a one-week grace period after signing papers.
Workers in large firms also have an additional law in their favor
- The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act: was put in place to make sure companies followed set standards for laying off large numbers of workers or completely shutting down a department, plant, or factory
Another important point to consider is that not everything in writing is necessarily carved in stone. Employees may receive a policy and procedure handbook at the start of their work term, but the part that covers layoffs, severance, unused vacation pay, and restrictions on the use of company-owned supplies can be changed by business owners. It is a good idea to keep an eye on the small print if an updated handbook is distributed to staff. For example, rules can be changed in an employer’s favor, especially if the company adds bankruptcy to the book.
Seeking Legal Advice
If you believe you have been a victim of wrongful termination, you will want to seek legal advice. The process can be complicated and a qualified employment law attorney can examine your complaints to make a case worth defending. If you are not sure if you want to invest the time and expense of a professional, ask yourself if there was just cause for the termination. In most states, employees are hired “at will” and employers can easily terminate a worker, especially if there is no contract involved.
If you are not sure whether to contact a lawyer or not, consider these situations and if any describe your predicament, you have every right to seek legal help:
- You were fired for reasons defined as discriminatory.
- You were fired after telling your boss that you have a disability or are expecting a baby.
- You were fired immediately after lodging a complaint as a victim of discrimination or harassment.
- You were fired after verbally pointing out workplace violations, such as threats to personal safety or inaccurate billings or payments in the accounting department.
- You were fired for taking an absence to vote or taking Family and Medical Leave.
- If you were fired to result in your position being replaced by, for example, a man or a white colleague.
- You were fired just before your entitlement of receiving benefits, like stocks or retirement funds.
- You were fired for reasons that cannot be done as stated in your contract.
If you have experienced any of these situations, you may or may not have a strong case against your previous employer. A sure way to understand any complications is to contact us at Brown Firm PLLC so we can sort through the facts together and determine the best route in which to proceed to maximize your own livelihood and welfare.