Employee rights for wrongful termination are generally governed by both state and federal employment laws.
Additionally, union contracts, employment contracts, and employee handbooks often provide additional rights to challenge wrongful termination.
Federal and state laws dealing with wrongful discharge generally prohibit discrimination in employment based upon race, national origin, gender, age, religion, disability, or union activity. For further discrimination information refer to our Discrimination Page.
Commonly Asked Questions
Most employees in the United States work “at will”. An employer may legally fire an at-will employee for any legal reason or no reason at all. However, even an at-will employee may not be fired for an illegal reason.
In most states, the law presumes that employees are at will, unless they have a contract with their employer changing this status. Oftentimes this will be highlighted in employee handbooks, or employers may require employees to sign an agreement that they work at-will. If you have not signed an at-will agreement, check your employee manual or other written workplace policies.
If you are an at-will employee, you still cannot be fired for reasons that are illegal under state and federal law. In these situations, the Congress or your state’s legislature has decided to make an exception to the general rule of at-will employment. An employer may not terminate you for any discriminatory reason such as your race, age, color, religion, nationality, gender or disability. Similarly, you cannot be fired if you have reported or complained about illegal work activity, discrimination, harassment or about safety violations in your workplace. Further, you have been wrongfully terminated if you have exercised a legal right such as; the right to take family and medical leave, to take leave to serve in the military, or to take time off from work to vote or serve on a jury.
We often recommend seeking the advice of a lawyer when you first suspect there is a problem. A consultation is recommended prior to an anticipated termination, or otherwise as soon as possible after the termination. Most employment claims have fairly short statutes of limitation. Therefore, waiting could keep you from getting the compensation you deserve or even being able to file a claim at all.
Ask your employer why he discharged you and take notes if possible. Be sure to ask for a written reason for termination and your personnel file. While some employers may not give you any documents, they may if you request them.
Write it Down
Write down the names and contact information of people involved in your termination. Include statements they made prior to your discharge regarding positive commendations for work you performed well.
Begin searching for another job. Although the law does not specifically require you to seek other employment before filing a wrongful termination lawsuit, it does require employees to mitigate their damages by attempting to procure comparable employment.