For an employment lawyer, one of the most common scenarios is when they are contacted by someone who has been recently fired from their place of employment. Their would-be client swears up and down that they were a model employee, their company fired them for no reason whatsoever, and now they want to sue their former employer for wrongful termination.
First of all, we understand the frustration. The process of being fired or laid off from a job isn’t just a disappointment. It’s a body blow to the ego, and it introduces an element of terrifying uncertainty to what was previously a comfortable routine. It’s natural to feel angry and upset. But before contacting an attorney, it’s important to understand when a person really has been illegally terminated.
- First of all, the vast majority of employees working in the United States are known as “at-will employees.” That means that they can be fired for nearly any reason the employer wants. While many public employees receive a due process hearing before termination takes place, private employers have the right to fire someone without a period of notice, providing them a formal hearing, or even giving them a chance to defend themselves or their actions. An employer has the right to fire a worker if they leave their post in order to help someone and act as a Good Samaritan.
- However, there are a few things at-will employers aren’t allowed to fire people for. For example, public and private employers cannot discriminate against an employee based on race, religion, gender, and their country of origin. Recently, the federal government also ruled that it was illegal for a person to be fired based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.
- The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 performed two legal functions. First, it prohibited employers from discriminating against people with disabilities. Second, it requires businesses to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees, along with making sure accessibility requirements for public accommodations are also met.
- It’s illegal for a company to fire someone in retaliation for them engaging in a protected activity. These include whistleblowers, employees discussing and forming a union, and making complaints about discrimination or harassment.
- If you have entered into a contract with your company, whether it was written or oral, you can sue if they violate the contract. This might include breaches of the company’s policies or discharge procedures.
- An employee could have a strong case if their company tries to coerce them into committing an illegal act. Some examples of situations like this might be a company ordering a worker to ignore safety regulations, work while off the clock, or knowingly participate in fraudulent activity.
Now that you’ve got a stronger grasp of what wrongful termination does and doesn’t cover, keep in mind that there can be gray areas. If you have been recently terminated, and you think it was illegal or wrong, don’t just give up. Contact a reputable attorney specializing in employment law. If your former company has acted illegally, you might be entitled to legal recourse.