A wrongful termination claim can be filed in a court of law if an employee believes he or she has been ‘illegally’ fired from the job. Such claims result from an alleged violation of federal or state anti-discrimination laws, employment contracts or labor laws, including whistle-blower laws.
A wrongful termination claim can also be filed when an employee believes the termination was due to sexual harassment or in retaliation to a complaint or workers’ compensation claim.
All of this seems pretty straightforward – wrongful always means unfair – right?
Not in the legal sense, no.
Sure, it can be frustrating for an employee to find himself out of a job for no valid reason. In many cases, it may boil down to a mere difference of opinion in how the employee perceives their own work abilities and how an employer measures job performance.
But, a termination is only “wrongful” when it is wrong in the legal sense of the word.
There are a large number of myths and misconceptions concerning “wrongful termination.”
Here are the top seven myths about wrongful termination many employees hold.
Myth #1: Any termination that seems unreasonable amounts to wrongful termination.
If you were hired on an at-will basis in a state like California where the prevailing legal principle is “employment at will,” you can be fired at any point in time. The employer can do so for any reason or no reason at all. Harsh as that may sound, the employer can even fire you for chewing gum or for using the smartphone during work hours.
Unless there’s an employment contract signed between you and the employer, you can practically be fired for any reason whatsoever. If the employment contract requires a cause for termination and the fired employee is not given one, he or she may file a wrongful termination claim.
But it is not true that federal and state employment laws such as anti-discrimination are not applicable in at-will states. If an employee is fired for unlawful reasons such as discrimination, the employer can be held liable.
Myth #2: I can be legally fired for publicly admitting I voted for a certain candidate.
It doesn’t matter which presidential candidate you voted for. You have the liberty of expressing your political inclinations in the workplace. But, this is only true if you work in one of four states, namely California, Connecticut, South Carolina, and Louisiana. These four states have statutes that protect an employee’s right to freely express political views.
Several other states also offer certain legal protections to citizens for attending political rallies or endorsing politicians but you’ll need to speak with an employment law attorney to know if your case qualifies for a possible wrongful termination claim.
Myth #3: Workplace discrimination laws are only for minorities and women.
Every person with a unique gender, race, religion, natural origin, citizenship status, marital status or medical history has the right to be protected under workplace discrimination laws. That’s pretty much everybody!
Anyone can be discriminated against at the workplace regardless of whether they are males or females or are considered a minority.
Therefore, anyone fired due to their race, disability, medical condition, religion, sexual orientation, etc. can file a wrongful termination claim.
Myth #4: It isn’t possible to establish I was fired in retaliation for speaking against an illegal practice at the workplace.
It may be possible to prove that you were fired in retaliation for exposing an illegal activity going on at the workplace. For instance, in July 2018, a former banker sued the Wells Fargo bank, claiming wrongful termination.
Federal and state laws in several states protect whistleblowers against retaliation. Employers cannot punish their employees for reporting wrongdoings or illegal activities within an organization.
Myth #5: If I quit, I cannot sue my employer.
It is a common misconception that if an employee quits, they cannot file a wrongful termination lawsuit. There are occasions when an employee finds the work environment too hostile, intolerable or dangerous to continue working for an organization. The only choice they’re left with is to quit.
In such cases, an employee can still sue the employer. Even if the employee has been coerced into submitting a resignation, they may file a wrongful termination claim.
Myth #6: All employees over a certain age are protected by the employment law.
Age discrimination is common in the workplace. But you may be wrong to assume that if you’re older than 40 years, you’re automatically protected by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967. The act only protects job applicants and employees who are eligible under a set of guidelines. Such employees include those who have a private employer who employs 20 or more workers for a minimum of 20 weeks in a year.
If you’re covered by the ADEA, you can sue the employer for discrimination based on age in termination, hiring, appraisal, and privileges.
Myth #7: My employer will settle quickly because they care about their reputation.
If the wrongful termination claim isn’t based on facts or backed by solid evidence, do not expect your employer to settle so easily.
Publicity is hardly a concern for the lawyers hired by large scale companies. The incident usually won’t even find a mention in local newspapers unless you happen to be a public figure or celebrity.