Unexpected firings can be quite traumatic. And in the case of wrongful termination, it can be absolutely devastating. Although no employer holds the right to fire employees as they please, some employers misuse their authority and make such abrupt decisions on little to no basis.
If you believe you’ve been wrongfully terminated, you might feel utterly powerless. In cases like these, there are important steps to take right away to help protect your rights. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the basics of wrongful termination and what you need to do next.
Wrongful Termination Laws
It is not that organizations are the ultimate power who are unquestionable. Even though the organization claims to be one of the big powers, it can’t fire an employee for an inappropriate reason. Employees have all their rights to question the organization through wrongful termination laws.
However, before that, you must know what defines wrongful termination, and how to deal with it legally. With this, a wrongful termination lawyer can help guide you through the process and ensure that both parties are treated fairly.
Understanding Wrongful Termination
However, at-will employment has exceptions that could make a termination wrongful. If you are covered by an employment contract or union agreement, your employer likely can’t fire you without “just cause.”
Other exceptions to at-will employment include situations involving discrimination, retaliation, or violation of public policy. In such cases, seeking legal guidance is crucial to understanding your rights and options.
In U.S. cities like Los Angeles, these exceptions carry significant weight due to local policies and regulations that prioritize fair treatment of employees. The city places a strong emphasis on ensuring that employees are protected from unjust terminations.
For individuals in Los Angeles facing such circumstances, seeking legal guidance is crucial to understanding your rights and options. Consultation with a knowledgeable wrongful termination attorney in Los Angeles can provide you with the necessary insights into the legal aspects of your situation.
- Violating Public Policy: It is illegal to fire someone for reasons that violate public policy, like refusing to engage in unlawful activities or taking legally protected leave.
- Breaching Implied Contracts: An implied contract can exist if the employer made verbal or written promises of job security that the employee accepted by continuing to work. Firing against those implied promises may be illegal.
- Failing to Act in Good Faith: All employment relationships require good faith and fair dealing. Firing in an unethical, vindictive manner could breach that duty of good faith.
- Discrimination: It is illegal under federal law to terminate employment for reasons of race, gender, age, disability, religion, or national origin.
Therefore, even if you don’t possess a formal employment contract, your termination might still be deemed illegal if it falls under any of these exceptions. The key is identifying whether the reason for your firing violates the law in some way.
Must-Know Information to Handle a Wrongful Termination
Not all employees can effectively handle a wrongful termination. When you find yourself in such a situation, seeking legal support is undoubtedly essential. Here are a few things you must know while handling a wrongful termination.
1. Written Promises Matter
Most private sector employees work at will with no formal contract. But written information that promises job security could be considered a binding contract. For example, an offer letter specifying you can only be fired for cause, or a policy handbook that details specific disciplinary procedures before termination.
If your employer violates these written promises, you may have a wrongful termination claim. Save copies of any written documents like contracts, handbooks, performance reviews, or disciplinary reports. The terms in these documents can support your argument that the firing breached a contractual obligation.
2. Implied Promises Also Count
Even without a written contract, an implied contract can still exist between you and your employer. Courts have ruled that oral assurances of “permanent” employment or promising discharge only for “good cause” can create an implied contract.
Factors like long tenure, promotions, positive reviews, and lack of discipline are also considered.
To prove an implied contract, show that your employer made verbal or written promises that you accepted through your actions, like staying on the job.
While more difficult to demonstrate than an actual contract, implied contracts are still legally enforceable.
3. Good Faith and Fair Dealing
All employment relationships involve an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Your employer should not act in bad faith when interacting with you.
Examples of Bad Faith Include:
- Firing you to avoid paying commissions
- Misrepresenting reasons for discharge
- Unequally enforcing policies
Even at-will employees are protected from bad-faith termination. If you can show your employer fired you in an unethical manner, you may be able to claim a breach of the good faith covenant.
4. Violating Public Policy
Some reasons for termination clearly violate public policy. Even at-will employees can’t be fired for reasons that break the law or harm the public interest.
Illegal grounds for firing include:
- Workplace retaliation
- Refusing to commit an unlawful act
- Jury duty absences
- Filing workers’ comp claims
- Reporting violations to authorities
If your termination falls under one of these public policy exceptions, it’s probable that you have grounds for a wrongful termination claim. Each state also has its own laws defining public policy exceptions, so check what protections apply in your location.
5. Discrimination is Illegal
It is illegal under federal law for employers to fire employees because of protected characteristics like:
- National origin
If you believe you were terminated due to discrimination, file a charge with the EEOC as soon as possible. This starts an official process for a discrimination claim. When doing this, however, keep records of any discriminatory incidents at work to help provide evidence of wrongful termination.
6. Retaliation: Protecting Your Rights
Employers cannot fire employees for exercising rights protected by law. For example, it is illegal retaliation if you are terminated for:
- Filing a discrimination complaint
- Requesting reasonable accommodation
- Taking legally entitled leave
- Reporting unlawful activities
To win a retaliation claim, you must show your protected activity directly led to the termination. Proving that the firing was vindictive and only happened because you engaged in protected actions can establish wrongful termination.
7. Employer Fraud
The law prohibits employers from using fraudulent representations to hire or fire employees. Examples include:
- Falsely promising job security
- Lying about reasons for discharge
- Misrepresenting workplace policies
If you were induced to take the job under false pretenses or your employer lied about causes for termination, you may have a claim for wrongful discharge. Just be prepared to provide clear evidence of the employer’s fraudulent intent.
8. Protecting Your Reputation
Defamation arises when an employer makes false, damaging statements about an employee. Examples include:
- Falsely accusing you of crimes, misconduct, or dishonesty
- Sabotaging your character to colleagues
Suing for defamation requires proving the statements caused harm. If fired due to an employer’s false and malicious assertions about you, consider a defamation claim along with wrongful termination.
Getting fired is never pleasant, but if your termination was illegal, you must take action. This starts with understanding applicable wrongful termination exceptions and gathering evidence to build your case. After this, you’ll need to contact an employment lawyer to discuss your options. With the right proof, you can demand fair compensation for an unjust firing.
The most important thing is not to delay. If you want to protect your rights and get justice, you must act quickly. Only if you take proactive steps in pursuing your legal remedies can you obtain a wrongful discharge settlement.