You can feel it in the pit of your stomach—that sinking feeling on your way to the boss’s office. Even though you’ve done nothing wrong, you are handed a pink slip. Your boss shakes your hand. You are asked to clean up your office, to de-personalize your cubicle.
If you have been let go from a position, and you feel as if your firing was unjust, you very well may have been the target of an illegal firing (also called a “wrongful termination”). As a working person, keeping up-to-date on the latest federal, state, and local employment laws can be overwhelming, and most people will take the wrongful termination without looking into an employment law attorney before continuing with their job search.
Many states consider employment to be “at will,” meaning an employer may fire an employee at any given time and for any stated reason (as long as the reason of the termination itself follows the law). It is of vital importance to know and understand the circumstances around your loss of employment. An employment law attorney can discuss the employment rules and legal solutions that may save your job, or help you to sue your previous employer for wrongful termination.
Read Your Written Contract
An employment contract is a legal agreement signed by two or more stakeholding parties, in this case the employer and employee. Check your contract document for any statements that discuss hiring or payroll practices. Some employment contracts state the “at will” employment system. Others note that employees only be fired with reason of good cause. If your contract has been ignored, as victim of wrongful termination you may be able to bring your case before a court.
Don’t Trust Verbal Promises
Has your employer relied on you while others slacked off? Consider the length of your work history and how often you receive accolades or promotions. Does your record show a history of going beyond the scope of your original position? Paper documents and physical contracts are not the only source of protection against being fired unfairly. Does your job posting equal the work you do? Remember, statements made in your paper contract take precedence over verbal or non-written agreements. An implied employment contract can be either a verbal or written agreement based on evidence from your employers or coworkers. These contracts can be difficult to prove as valid because many employers do not want the attached stigma.
Breach of Duty of Good Faith and Fair Dealing
If your employer fired you only to continue to benefit off your work, you may be able to claim breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing. Has your employer misled you about the work involved in your position? Did your termination result in gains to the employer (commission, promotions, or contracts)? Was your job replaced with a lower-paid employee? Though some courts fail to recognize the “good faith and fair dealing” exception to at-will employment, other states require a valid employment contract before employees can sue for a breach of good faith and fair dealing.
If you believe you were fired because of your age, race, color, national origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, level of ability, or genetic information, you should talk to a lawyer right away. Federal law prohibits any workplace discrimination. However, there are strict time limits and rules that apply to discrimination claims. An attorney will help you file a complaint of discrimination with your state or federal agency before you continue to challenge your employer in court.
Under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemloyment Rights Act (USERRA), veteran workers are protected against discrimination and are offered certain protections to ensure a lateral move from public service to civilian life. An attorney may bring civil action against an employer who fails to follow USERRA standards.
Employers are forbidden from using your job as leverage in order to prevent the employee from asserting their Constitutional rights, in contributing to lawful organizations, or participating in legal activities. Your lawyer will file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or formally complain to your employer about any harassment or discrimination.
Whistle-blowers are employees who report their employers for illegal or harmful activities and practices. Some states offer full protection for whistle-blowers regardless of the laws, regulations, or standards broke by their employer. Other states only protect whistle-blower employees under certain laws, such as environmental regulations, labor laws, or injuries. If you’d like to complain about unsafe or unfair practices, be sure to speak with an employment attorney.
Public Policy Violations
It is illegal for an employer to violate the law when firing a worker for responsible public service, whistle-blowing, or for following state, local, and company policies. Some states protect employees from being fired for volunteer service as a juror, election officer, National Guards member, volunteer EMT, or local firefighter. Some courts hold that employers cannot fire you because you exercised a legal right: from filing a workers’ compensation claim to reporting a health violation, to following the rules of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). If you feel as if your freedom to access public policy has been violated, your employment attorney can discuss your case further.
Fraud is the unlawful sharing of false information to achieve a business’s goals. If you were wrongfully-terminated or forced to resign based on false information, hearsay, or a combination of the above topics, and have evidence to prove your previous employer tricked you with falsehoods in order to facilitate your removal from the position, an employment lawyer could add a fraud allegation to your suit.
When your reputation has been harmed by false facts spread by an employer during the firing process, to prove defamation was a part of your job loss, you must show evidence of your former employer making false statements, and how these statements harmed your chances of finding a new job. More than harmless gossip, defamation directly leads to less job prospects in one’s future search.
Just because one position did not work out, doesn’t mean your firing was just. If you feel as though you were a victim of wrongful termination, following federal, state, and local employment laws partnered with the experience of your employment law attorney can focus your case on its merits. Half the battle is knowing the employment rules and following up with legal solutions that may save your job, or help you find meaningful and fulfilling work in the future.