Wrongful Termination Explained

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A wrongful termination – also referred to as a wrongful discharge or wrongful dismissal – happens when an employee is fired for an unlawful reason.

Read on to learn when the reasons for a termination are illegal and when you should dispute it via a wrongful termination lawyer.

What is Wrongful Termination?

Because many states consider employees to be employed “at will,” employers can terminate their employment without providing a reason or giving notice. The exception is if an employee’s termination goes against their employment contract or company policy or violates the law.

When a termination does violate a law or goes against an employment contract, the dismissal is considered wrongful.

A termination can be considered wrongful if there is discrimination involved, if it goes against the company policy termination guidelines, and if public policy has been violated. Other instances of wrongful termination include the employee being fired for whistleblowing, refusing to commit an illegal act when commanded to by the employer, or making a complaint about workplace issues.

If an employee has been dismissed due to their race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age, gender, or nationality, the termination is considered discriminatory and wrongful.

How Wrongful Termination Works

An employee may have a case of wrongful termination if they are dismissed due to discrimination, if the termination constitutes a breach of the employment contract, or if public or company policy has been violated. 

If the employee was asked to commit an illegal act by the employer, refuses, and is then terminated, it also constitutes wrongful termination. Additionally, employees may not be fired for whistleblowing, constructive discharge, or complaining about their workplace.

While no laws specifically protect employees who have been wrongfully terminated, the dismissal may have violated state and federal employment laws. The law prohibits discrimination against protected classes and upholds employment contracts and public or company policy.

Suppose an employee feels compelled to resign because the employer makes the job unbearable. In that case, a wrongful termination lawsuit of constructive discharge may be filed against the former employer. Constructive discharge means the workplace became too unbearable for any reasonable person to continue working there.

As mentioned, however, employees in most states are considered to be employed “at will.” This means employers do not need a reason to fire them or give them notice – the exceptions are if the employee is protected by a collective bargaining agreement or an employment contract and the termination was a violation of the law. In these cases, an employer must follow the law to the letter when terminating an employee.

If, for instance, an employee files a worker’s compensation claim for an injury that happened on the job and the employer retaliates and terminates them, it may be a case of wrongful termination.

How to Handle Wrongful Termination

You must know your rights if you have been fired from your job. Employees are protected by their employment contracts and state and federal laws.

Once you know your rights as set out by law, you should explore your options and determine whether you can take legal recourse. If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated because you were discriminated against or the employer did not follow public and company policy when firing you, you should speak to an experienced wrongful termination lawyer to determine your next steps.

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