When you are terminated from your employment, how do you determine if the termination was lawful or illegal (referred to as “wrongful termination”)? The majority of employment is on an “at-will” basis, which implies that an employee may be terminated at any time and for any reason, or for no reason at all (as long as the reason is not illegal). However, there are many significant exceptions to the at-will employment rule—as well as legal remedies—that may enable you to retain your work or challenge your former employer for a wrongful termination case.
Promises made in Writing
If your employed provided for a formal contract or other kinds of assurance of job stability, then you will have a compelling case that you are not an at-will employee. For instance, you may have an employment contract that states that you may be terminated only for cause or as specified in the contract. Alternatively, you may have an offer letter or another type of written document that contains assurances regarding your future work.
Promises Made Implicitly
Another exception to the at-will rule is the presence of an implicit employment contract—a contract formed by your employer’s words and actions. This can be difficult to establish because most firms are quite cautious not to give job guarantees. Implicit contracts, on the other hand, have been revealed where companies guaranteed “permanent employment” or employment for a certain period, or when employers detailed specific sorts of progressive punishment in an employee manual.
Principles of Good Faith and Fair Dealings were Infringed
If your employer behaved unfairly, you may be able to bring a claim for violation of a duty of good faith and fair dealing. Employers have been held to have violated the obligation of good faith and fair dealing by:
- terminating or moving personnel to deprive them of sales commissions
- deceiving employees about their prospects for advancement and salary hikes
- inventing justifications for terminating an employee when the true goal is to replace him or her with someone who will work for less money.
- downplaying the negative features of a work, such as a requirement to go through hazardous districts late at night;
- frequently reassigning an employee to remote, risky, or otherwise unpleasant duties to pressure the individual into departing without receiving severance pay or other benefits due.
Certain courts do not accept the at-will employment exemption based on “good faith and fair dealing.” Additionally, in some states, employees must have a valid employment contract to sue for a breach of good faith and fair dealing.
Public Policy Violations
It is unlawful to terminate a worker in violation of public policy—that is, to terminate for reasons that society views as illegitimate.
If you are petitioning for wrongful termination on the ground of violation of public policy, most courts will need the existence of a specific law establishing such policy. Numerous state and federal statutes prohibit employment-related activities that are manifestly contrary to public policy, such as terminating an employee for:
- exposing a firm practice of withholding earned commissions and vacation compensation from workers
- taking leave of absence from job to serve on a jury
- being absent from work to exercise his or her right to vote; or
- alerting authorities of any misbehavior that is detrimental to the public (whistle-blowing).
Additionally, several states safeguard employees from being terminated for very particular reasons, such as election officer or volunteer firefighter service. Additionally, some courts have concluded that employers cannot discharge you for using a legal remedy or exercising a legal right—such as submitting a workers’ compensation claim or reporting an Occupational Safety and Health Act infringement (OSHA).
Employers are prohibited from terminating even at-will employees for illegitimate grounds, and discrimination is also prohibited. If you believe you were terminated because of your racial group, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, pregnancy, or genetic information, you should instantly see an attorney. Discrimination lawsuits are subject to strict time limits and processes; for example, you must file a complaint with a state or federal agency before suing your employer in court.
Employers are prohibited from taking retaliatory action against workers who engage in certain legally protected activities. To demonstrate that you lost your job as a result of your employer’s retaliation, you must prove the following:
- You were engaged in a legally protected activity, such as filing a petition with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or lodging a formal complaint with your employer over harassment or discrimination.
- That behavior compelled your employer to take action—for example, you were punished shortly after your employer learned you filed a sexual harassment complaint.
- You have been injured by your employer’s actions like being fired, denied promotion, or have been given an unjustified bad performance rating.
In extreme circumstances, an employer’s methods when terminating a worker are so cunning and erroneous that they border on fraud. It is mostly seen during the recruiting process when employers make promises and then eventually got violated or during the termination of employment like when the employee is being induced to resign.
To establish that your employment loss was the result of fraud, you must establish the following:
- your employer made an erroneous statement
- someone in authority was aware of the erroneous portrayal
- there is a deliberate attempt by your employer to deceive you or that your employer tried to induce you to rely on that particular representation
- you relied on the portrayal in fact, and
- due to reliance on the representation, you suffered a loss as a result
The most difficult aspect of proving fraud is establishing that the employer behaved improperly on purpose in an attempt to deceive you. This necessitates a thorough record of how, when, to whom, and how misleading claims were made.
An action intended to safeguard the reputation of an individual and good standing in the community is a defamation lawsuit. To establish that defamation contributed to your job loss, you must demonstrate that your previous employer made false and malicious remarks about you throughout the course of terminating your employment or giving subsequent references. These statements affected your prospects of getting a new job.
Generally, to claim defamation, you must establish that your previous employer:
- made a slanderous remark about you
- a malicious comment has been made by knowing that the comment was false, or it has a reckless disregard for its falsity
- made such remark orally or in writing to at least one other individual, and
- injured you in some manner by disseminating the statement—for example, by causing you to lose your job or preventing you from being hired by a new employer.
To prevail in a defamation action, you must establish that the cruel statements were more than idle water cooler chatter. True defamation requires both factual and fraudulent information.