If you ever lose a job, there are going to be questions surrounding the circumstances. In many cases, the termination makes sense. You weren’t doing your job, the employer can no longer afford to keep you on the payroll, or there’s some extenuating circumstance that no longer makes for a good fit. But then there are situations where the termination comes out of left field. And in these instances, it’s important to understand your rights and the legal obligations of the employer.
4 Signs You’ve Been Wrongfully Terminated
An allegation of wrongful termination is a serious one. It’s not something you should bring forth lightly or without some careful consideration and legal assistance. However, it’s not exactly uncommon.
Wrongful termination, which is basically an illegal form of discrimination or retaliation against an employee that leads to their firing, is a violation of employment laws and employee rights. As an employee, you’re in a protected class of people and you have certain rights under the law. If these rights are violated, you can sue your employer for damages.
Here are some signs that indicate the possibility of a wrongful termination:
- Violation of Rules or Promises
If there were certain rules or promises — written or implied — extended to you at hiring, this is considered a contract. And if these rules or promises are broken, this could be grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit.
While your employer has a lot of control in how the termination process works, they are bound to their own rules. So if you have a contract or employee handbook that states the termination process works in one way and your termination was executed in a manner totally contrary to the documented rules, this could justify legal action.
Any form of discrimination can render a termination illegal. Anti-discrimination laws protect you from being targeted on the grounds of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability, national origin, and even age (if over 40). Most states also have rules in place protecting employees based on pregnancy, marital status, and military affiliation.
“If charged with discrimination, your employer must prove that the termination was business-related,” HR professional Nikelle Murphy writes. “Managers must support any employment actions, including performance reviews and subsequent write-ups for poor performance, and firings with complete and appropriate documentation.”
If you think your termination is a form of discrimination, meet with a wrongful termination lawyer as soon as possible. There are very strict rules and time limits on how and when you must file a complaint. Typically, these complaints must be filed prior to suing the employer in court. An attorney can help you work through the details.
- Violation of Public Policies
There are a number of state and federal laws that prohibit an employer from firing an employee based on certain circumstances and factors. For example, you can’t be fired for getting pregnant, having a baby, or caring for a sick parent, spouse, or loved one. Likewise, you can’t be fired for voting or serving in the armed forces. If your termination is directly tied to one of these events, you have legal protection.
An employer can’t fire you because you expressed concern over an issue, complained in a way that made the employer mad, or even for filing a lawsuit against the employer. These are all forms of retaliation.
As long as the actions you took were legally protected in the workplace, you should have protection against termination. (This doesn’t mean you can’t be terminated for something else, but if your firing was a direct consequence of the action, you have a legal defense.)
Getting to the Truth of the Matter
It’s important to understand that not all terminations are illegal, even if you feel slighted. There are plenty of acceptable reasons for firing an employee, including:
- Incompetence (including poor quality of work and/or lack of productivity)
- Insubordination and other related issues, such as dishonesty
- Inability to financially compensate the employee any longer
- Theft or criminal behavior (including revealing or stealing trade secrets)
- Issues with attendance, like frequent absences or chronic tardiness
- Physical violence, such as threats against employees or customers
- Discriminatory behavior or sexual harassment in the workplace
While it would be nice if every termination were black and white, there’s often a lot of gray area to work through. Keep this in mind as you consider the circumstances surrounding your termination. When in doubt, consult with a wrongful termination lawyer to learn more about your options.