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LEGAL DICTIONARY

Wrongful Termination

What Is Wrongful Termination?

Wrongful termination (also called wrongful discharge or wrongful dismissal) is the term for a fired employee's claim that their termination is unlawful or a breach of contract.

Some of these claims involve charges of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation.

What Are the Limitations of At-Will Employment?

Most workers are employed under an "at will" arrangement, meaning the employer can fire someone at their discretion. For example, they can fire someone because they do not job their job properly or are absent or late too often.

However, there are exceptions to at-will employment that are meant to protect workers.

For instance, an employer cannot fire someone for discriminatory reasons or because they reported unsafe working conditions or sexual harassment at the workplace. Firing someone under these and other circumstances would constitute wrongful termination, and the employee can take legal action.

Examples of Wrongful Termination

Here are some typical examples of wrongful termination.

  • Breach of contract: A breach of contract occurs when an employee is terminated for reasons that go against a written contract or the terms outlined in the employee handbook. For example, if the handbook states that an employee can choose to work remotely, it would be wrong to terminate someone for working from home.
  • Harassment: This violation involves a hostile workplace environment. An employer cannot fire someone for reporting workplace harassment, such as unwanted sexual advances, threats, or insulting comments.
  • Discrimination: Discriminatory practices could include an employer treating someone differently or harshly because of their age, race, disability, religion, or sexual orientation.
  • Constructive dismissal: This term represents actions an employer might take to get an employee to quit. The actions might include cutting someone's pay or changing their job location without notice or a valid reason.
  • Retaliation: This one overlaps with some of the other examples. In this case, an employee might be terminated for reporting discrimination or poor working conditions to the Human Resources (HR) department.
  • Whistleblowing: This example involves a worker who is fired for reporting illegal workplace activities to the authorities.
  • Public policy violation: In this case, an employee's termination goes against federal or state laws, such as the federal Families and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

What Employees Can Do About Wrongful Termination

People who believe they are the victims of wrongful dismissal can take the following steps.

  • Review federal and state right-to-work laws for information.
  • Ask your employer for clarification on why you were let go.
  • Review your at-will employment agreement, paying close attention to any employment contract clauses.
  • Speak with the HR department for any additional details, including any benefits you are entitled to receive.
  • Check with your state unemployment office about your eligibility for benefits.
  • Gather evidence of an adverse action, including any documents and communications that support your claim.

Finally, if your research indicates that you may have a case of wrongful termination, you may choose to take legal action. You can meet with an employment attorney for a free consultation about your legal options.

Helpful Resources:

Cornell Law - Wrongful Termination

USAGov - Labor Laws and Issues

ForThePeople - What Qualifies as Wrongful Termination?

What Is Wrongful Termination? (With Examples and Tips) | Indeed.com

What Is Wrongful Termination?

Wrongful termination (also called wrongful discharge or wrongful dismissal) is the term for a fired employee's claim that their termination is unlawful or a breach of contract.

Some of these claims involve charges of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation.

What Are the Limitations of At-Will Employment?

Most workers are employed under an "at will" arrangement, meaning the employer can fire someone at their discretion. For example, they can fire someone because they do not job their job properly or are absent or late too often.

However, there are exceptions to at-will employment that are meant to protect workers.

For instance, an employer cannot fire someone for discriminatory reasons or because they reported unsafe working conditions or sexual harassment at the workplace. Firing someone under these and other circumstances would constitute wrongful termination, and the employee can take legal action.

Examples of Wrongful Termination

Here are some typical examples of wrongful termination.

  • Breach of contract: A breach of contract occurs when an employee is terminated for reasons that go against a written contract or the terms outlined in the employee handbook. For example, if the handbook states that an employee can choose to work remotely, it would be wrong to terminate someone for working from home.
  • Harassment: This violation involves a hostile workplace environment. An employer cannot fire someone for reporting workplace harassment, such as unwanted sexual advances, threats, or insulting comments.
  • Discrimination: Discriminatory practices could include an employer treating someone differently or harshly because of their age, race, disability, religion, or sexual orientation.
  • Constructive dismissal: This term represents actions an employer might take to get an employee to quit. The actions might include cutting someone's pay or changing their job location without notice or a valid reason.
  • Retaliation: This one overlaps with some of the other examples. In this case, an employee might be terminated for reporting discrimination or poor working conditions to the Human Resources (HR) department.
  • Whistleblowing: This example involves a worker who is fired for reporting illegal workplace activities to the authorities.
  • Public policy violation: In this case, an employee's termination goes against federal or state laws, such as the federal Families and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

What Employees Can Do About Wrongful Termination

People who believe they are the victims of wrongful dismissal can take the following steps.

  • Review federal and state right-to-work laws for information.
  • Ask your employer for clarification on why you were let go.
  • Review your at-will employment agreement, paying close attention to any employment contract clauses.
  • Speak with the HR department for any additional details, including any benefits you are entitled to receive.
  • Check with your state unemployment office about your eligibility for benefits.
  • Gather evidence of an adverse action, including any documents and communications that support your claim.

Finally, if your research indicates that you may have a case of wrongful termination, you may choose to take legal action. You can meet with an employment attorney for a free consultation about your legal options.

Helpful Resources:

Cornell Law - Wrongful Termination

USAGov - Labor Laws and Issues

ForThePeople - What Qualifies as Wrongful Termination?

What Is Wrongful Termination? (With Examples and Tips) | Indeed.com