Unlawful termination, or wrongful dismissal, is when an employee is fired without just cause, and without adequate notice or compensation. There are no “unlawful termination” or “wrongful termination” laws in the United States. Although your boss may have fired you over something ridiculous or petty, it’s still totally legal.
Just because the law doesn’t automatically protect you doesn’t mean there isn’t anything you can do about being wrongfully fired. Suing your boss for unlawfully terminating you can get a little tricky. This blog tells you what your options are if you are unlawfully terminated.
What Is Unlawful Termination
Aside from trying to look for a new job or filing for unemployment, the first thing you should do after you get fired is reflect on your experience at your job. Sure, there are plenty of instances where it was your own fault you got fired. But what if something feels off about being terminated from your job?
When an employee is unlawfully terminated, it doesn’t mean that their dismissal was illegal. Unlawful termination is when your employer breaks or breaches the terms of your employment contract.
If you’re an at-will employee, you’ll have to look at the terms and conditions of your employment contract, or other collective agreements to see if you were unlawfully terminated. To read more about
Some courts will decide in favor of the employee because an employer breached a contract of good faith and fair dealing. In other words, if your boss ignores the spirit of the contract, abuses their power in the specifying terms, or interferes and fails to cooperate, they are acting out of good faith and fair dealing.
Your boss may have breached your contract in good faith and fair dealing by:
- Firing or transferring an employee in a way that affects their pay.
- Misleading an employee regarding promotions and wage increases.
- Misleading and minimizing negative aspects of a job.
- Exclusively assigning a certain employee to perform dangerous and undesirable assignments to coerce them into quitting.
- Refusing to pay severance, hazard pay, or other benefits.
As an at-will employee, you have the freedom to leave your job for whatever reason. Similarly, your boss can also terminate you for whatever reason, even if it’s ridiculous and petty. So what does that mean if you’re an at-will employee who is wrongfully terminated?
At-Will Employees and Wrongful Termination
Most people are at-will employees, even if they don’t know for certain. In all states except Montana, all employees are presumed to be “at-will” unless stated otherwise.
As an at-will employee, you can leave your job at any time without reason. However, this also means your boss is allowed to terminate you on those same grounds. Therefore, “wrongful termination” isn’t the best description for firing an employee without just cause, as it’s not illegal to fire someone without reason.
Most states do have additional rulings to include other protections and expectations into employee contracts. Aside from these additional rulings and your employment contract, you can be fired for any reason that isn’t discriminatory.
If you work in a union or in the public sector, you’re protected by your collective bargaining agreement or employment contract. Normally with these agreements, your employer needs just cause to fire you.
Illegal or Wrongful Dismissal
There are, of course, some things you cannot legally fire someone over. There are plenty of federal and state laws protecting employees when they’re fired. An employer cannot fire you for whistleblowing or for discriminatory reasons. You cannot be fired for:
- Religious beliefs, racial identity, gender, or age
- Refusing to break the law
- Reporting unethical or illegal behavior at work
- Taking time off for jury duty, voting, or reporting to the national guard
- Issues with your credit report or bankruptcy status
- Varying political beliefs
- Organizing a union or protective agency
- Filing a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board
If some of these instances are what lead to you being demoted or fired because you spoke up against it, you were illegally terminated. This means it’ll be much easier for you to make a report with the National Labor Board to receive compensation.
Other states have discrimination laws protecting workers from discriminating against sexual orientation. Check out our full guide on LGBTQAI+ discrimination here.
Also Read: 7 Red Flags you Should Sue Your Bad Employer
Checking Your Employment Contract
If you’re unlawfully terminated, you’ll first need to look at your employment contract to see if your employer breached the contract or acted out of good faith and fair dealing. The burden of proof is on the fired employee to go through their agreements to see if they were wrongfully terminated.
Most employee contracts will have a termination clause which states that an employee cannot be fired without just cause. The clause should also outline what grounds an employee can be fired over. If you find a breach in this section, you can sue for arbitrary discharge.
Start by analyzing your employee contract and handbook on your own. The following are some things courts look at when deciding if an employer acted out of good faith and fair dealing:
- The duration of employment
- The job description and outlined duties
- Performance reviews, write-ups, and positive comments
- Promotions, demotions, and wage increases
- Statements regarding write ups and warnings
- Promises of long-term employment and/or promotions
A court will decide whether or not there were violations based on some of these things.
What Can You Use In Place Of A Contract
Even if you don’t have an official employment contract, you can use your employee handbook. In some states, courts have used implied contracts such as employee handbooks as sufficient evidence against wrongful termination.
Thirty-six states, as well as the District of Columbia, recognize implied contracts and other agreements as valid contracts. Here are some agreements that courts take into consideration with wrongful termination cases.
Collective bargaining agreements
Collective bargaining agreements are common in trade unions and public sectors. Typically with these agreements, an employee will need to endure disciplinary hearings before they are fired. There are also other limitations to what employees can be terminated for.
Written agreements such as employee contracts and manuals can be used in some situations. In these kinds of agreements, there may be other outlines such as a disciplinary action clause that may support a wrongful termination claim.
Good faith and fair dealing
Although you may not have any kind of written contract, a court may judge your employer’s behavior that displayed bad faith. A common example of this might be terminating an employee for no reason just before their pension begins.
Check your state’s at-will employment laws on your state’s website. Certain states will have additional protection laws against what an employer can legally fire you for. In other instances, you may have refused to do something that goes against public policy or puts you in danger. For example, an employee may be fired from a fast-food restaurant because they refused to clean up hazardous materials such as human waste because the restaurant does not stock adequate PPE.
What You Need To Do If You Sue Your Employer
Before you can sue your employer for firing you unlawfully, you’ll need to file a complaint with the EEOC’s Public Portal. There, you’ll have to file a request for a Notice of Right to Sue. From there, the EEOC office will investigate your claim.
The EEOC can file lawsuits and enforce the law on employers after an investigation. If there is reasonable proof that an employee was discriminated against, the issue will be resolved in a process called “conciliation.” The EEOC will then determine whether or not the conciliation was successful and will litigate settlements and charges filed.
How An Employment Lawyer Helps You
Very few wrongful termination claims go to trial. However, you have a stronger claim if you file the lawsuit yourself with an employment lawyer. This gives you a stronger position, better negotiation tactics, and may allow you to access records and documents you may not have been able to.
Even if you cannot sue your employer for unlawful termination, you can consult with a lawyer to help you challenge other aspects of your employment contract, such as non-compete clauses.
A MyCaseHelper employment lawyer can help you with:
- Drafting and reviewing employment contracts, agreements, policies, and manuals.
- Enforcing or negotiating employment contracts.
- Challenging non-compete clauses and agreements.
- Filing for discrimination.
- Reviewing severance packages.
- Reviewing or enforcing pensions and benefits.
- Harassment and bullying conciliation.
- Third-party workplace investigations.
To connect with a MyCaseHelper attorney to assist your unlawful termination case, call 844-934-23-87 or request a consultation here.