Most employment in the US is “at will,” meaning that an employer has the right to terminate the employee at any time and for any reason, as long as it is not an illegal reason. So, how do you know if your termination was legal or illegal and how do you know if you have a case against your employer? The first step is to understand what wrongful termination is.
What is Wrongful Termination?
Wrongful termination is used to describe any situation in which an employee was fired from their job for a reason that is considered illegal. Firing someone based on anything considered to be discrimination, as retaliation, or for a reason that is violation of public policy are all considered to be cases of wrongful termination.
In other words, if your employer terminates your contract because of your gender, race, country of origin, age, color or anything else considered to be discrimination by federal and/or state law, your firing falls under wrongful termination.
Retaliation refers to being fired because you exercised some legal right, such as complaining about poor safety conditions, or complaining about discrimination or harassment at your place work, and your employer terminated your employment contract because of these actions.
Violating public policy refers to being fired for any reason that is considered to be morally wrong such as refusing to break the law, or for reporting any illegal activities taking place. In other words, your employer doesn’t have the right to fire you if you report they are knowingly mislabeling products, or if you refuse to lie to the government on their behalf, for example.
Some people don’t work “at will,” and if they are fired for any reason other than the provisions of their contract, they have the option of filing a wrongful termination suit.
If you feel you have a case for wrongful termination, you should consult an employment lawyer, who will be able to give you the best possible advice. If your employer is asking you sign anything that even resembles a waiver, you need to see a lawyer as soon as possible.
Constructive Discharge: Different Situation but Legally the Same
Constructive discharge is also classed under wrongful termination by law, as there is no separate category for this situation. It refers to any situation in which a person had to quit their job because working conditions had become so bad they could no longer tolerate the situation. Note, though, that constructive discharge is generally difficult to prove, so even if your employer is trying to force you out, you might consider another course of action.
Furthermore, the problem is that if you do prove constructive discharge, it means that you are turning your resignation into being fired. However, there is no law against getting fired so you have to prove that the underlying reason for which you were forced out is considered illegal.
For example, if your employer was making your life miserable because your performance was poor, you don’t have a legal leg to stand on because firing someone for poor performance isn’t against the law. And while the employer will have to prove your poor performance, you will also have to prove that there was an ulterior motive, such as discrimination or retaliation.
So, with a constructive discharge, it’s often best to consult a lawyer who specializes in employment issues. An attorney will able to tell you whether or not you have a case. Ideally, you should seek a consultation before quitting your job, since there might be other options available to you. The attorneys of Makarem & Associates are dedicated to helping our clients recover for unfair employment practices and have extensive experience in the field of employment law. Call us today at 310-312-0299 or email us at [email protected] to discuss your claim.