What is Wrongful Termination?
Wrongful termination occurs when an employer dismisses an employee for illegal reasons. This can include being fired for: being part of a protected class, firing an employee in retaliation for them participating in a protected activity such as reporting illegal activity at work, breaches of contract, or for any other reason that violates a state or federal law. So, can you sue for wrongful termination? Below outlines some of the types of wrongful termination, proving it, the statute of limitations, and steps that can lead to a lawsuit.
The employee contract outlines specific details of employment such as pay expectations, promotions, or length of employment. When the terms of this contract are violated in the process of terminating an employee, that employee may be entitled to recover compensation for wrongful termination.
Types of Wrongful Termination
The most common types of wrongful termination cases are discrimination-based. Employees have protections at the state and federal level that protect them from being fired based on:
- Skin color, race, or ethnicity
- Religious beliefs or religion
- Veterancy status
- Gender or sex
- National origin
Other common types of wrongful termination can include:
- Termination for whistleblowing or in retaliation. Employers cannot justifiably terminate an employee for taking part in activities that are protected by the law. Examples of this are termination after an employee files a claim for sexual harassment, assault, or discrimination, or after an employee has initiated a complaint with the EEOC.
- Fraud or false representation by the employer to persuades an employee into employment. If it can be proven that an employer made a false statement with intent to deceive an employee and the employee was harmed from relying on that claim, then they may be able to sue for wrongful termination based on the fraudulent actions of the employer.
- Defamation. If an employer makes malicious or false statements about an employee during the process of terminating them or while being asked for a reference from a potential future employer, an employee may have the right to recover compensation for damages for the increased difficulty in finding employment based on these false statements.
- Violation of federal or state laws in regards to terminating employees. If a firing violates public policy, such as when an employee is terminated for taking time off to attend required jury duty, then that employee may be entitled to recover compensation for wrongful termination.
Proving Wrongful Termination
To prove wrongful termination in court, your attorney has to present a significant volume of evidence, and for those employed in at-will states, this is even more true. Evidence such as pay stubs, emails, voicemails, texts, firing/hiring forms, any witness statements taken, and your employment contract should be kept as these are commonly used to build a strong wrongful termination case.
You may be able to sue for wrongful termination if it can be proven that:
- The firing occurred for a discriminatory reason. Any dismissal that occurs for a discriminatory reason may be grounds for a wrongful termination case. If an employee believes that they were dismissed from their job for their race, sexual orientation, age, gender, religious beliefs, ethnicity, maternity status, or genetic information, then they may have a strong case for wrongful termination based on discrimination. If you believe you may have a case based on discrimination, a workplace discrimination attorney may be able to help you get the compensation you deserve.
- Insufficient notice was given. Even if an employee’s dismissal was justified, it may still be considered a wrongful termination if proper notice was not given upon the termination of employment.
- If a fundamental contract term was changed by the employer. If your employment contract was changed fundamentally without your consent, this can create a situation where you’ve breached the contract without even knowing it. Pay reductions, changes in job titles or responsibilities, changes in work hours, reductions in reporting staff, and the creation of toxic work environments constitute contractual changes that may be able to be sued for. If too much time passes after these types of changes are made, then the employee is legally accepting those changes and may not be able to sue for them any longer.
- If an employer claimed they had cause to fire when they did not. Many employees lose out on severance pay or unemployment benefits because they have been fired for breaching their employment contract, but not all dismissals are rooted in due cause. With the right evidence, an experienced wrongful termination attorney may be able to prove that you were wrongfully fired even if the employer claimed that it has alleged cause for dismissal.
- If an employee was forced to resign under duress. Employees who resign are often not entitled to severance pay, so if an employer forces an employee to resign, this can be considered a form of wrongful termination and the employee may be able to sue for the lost severance pay.
- If an employee was fired in retaliation or for whistleblowing. If an employee filed a complaint against their employer or filed for worker’s compensation and was retaliated against, this could be grounds for a wrongful termination case if the employee lost their job over it. Employees cannot be fired for exercising their legal rights, so a wrongful termination attorney often has a strong argument to make in these types of cases.
- If an employer uses defamation to dismiss an employee. When an employer makes untrue, defamatory statements to justify the dismissal of an employee, the employee may be able to sue for wrongful termination over having their character slandered.
- If a dismissal does not follow state or federal laws regarding firing. Employees have many protections extended by state & federal laws when it comes to being fired, and if any of these is violated in the dismissal process, then an employee may have a case for wrongful termination.
Statute of Limitations in Wrongful Termination
The typical statute of limitations for wrongful termination in the United States is around 180 days or 6 months in length. There are also limitations that can extend up to 300 days in length based on violations of particular laws or statues.
Steps to Take If You’ve Been Wrongfully Fired
Those seeking compensation for wrongful termination are often looking to be reinstated to their previous position or are looking to get compensation for the punitive damages caused by an employer’s actions. With the assistance of an experienced wrongful termination lawyer, the maximum amount of compensation can be recovered.
The first step in filing a wrongful termination lawsuit is making sure you have all the pertinent documents that can support your case. This includes the employment contract, company memoranda and other related communication documents, any documentation related to job performance, any documentation related to termination, the company handbook(s), and any depositions of witness statements that were taken.
The second step in the process of suing for wrongful termination is filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Without first going through the EEOC, an employee cannot sue for discrimination in a federal court and cannot receive compensation for their wrongful termination. After the EEOC has conducted an investigation of the case and cannot provide a suitable remedy for the employee, then the employee may proceed in filing a wrongful termination lawsuit.
The third step is contacting an experienced wrongful termination attorney. Finding the right legal representation can make or break your case. If you’re in need of a great wrongful termination attorney in California or Nevada, Heidari Law Group can offer the assistance you’re looking for. Contact us today for a free wrongful termination case evaluation.