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Posted on August 5, 2020 | Wrongful Termination
Wrongful termination is a somewhat nebulous legal term. Many people misconstrue the meaning behind a wrongful termination. These cases are very difficult to prove, especially due to the “at-will” employment laws in effect across the United States. However, there are some situations in which wrongful termination is more obvious. Consider the following five scenarios and compare them to your own situation if you think you may have been wrongfully terminated.
Most employment relationships in the US function on an at-will basis, meaning both the employee and the employer reserve the right to end the relationship at any time with or without cause and with or without notice. However, some employees sign employment contracts before beginning new jobs, and some of these employees’ contracts include clauses that outline acceptable grounds or cause for termination.
For example, an employment contract may stipulate that the employee must maintain a certain performance level or face termination. If the employee’s performance dips below this threshold, then firing the employee would be justifiable under the terms of the contract. However, if an employee’s contract requires the employer to establish cause for firing, but the employee is fired seemingly without cause, then this may qualify as a contract violation and wrongful termination.
Employees across all industries hold certain rights with which their employers may not interfere. Such actions include acting as whistleblowers to report unlawful or unethical business operations, testifying in open court as witnesses, filing for workers’ compensation benefits after suffering injuries on the job, or reporting an employer to a regulatory agency such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If you engaged in any such action and were subsequently fired, this is illegal retaliation on the part of your employer.
It’s also possible your employer may attempt to cover up this wrongful termination by listing your firing as a layoff or providing some other excuse for termination. Typically, the timing of your engaging in the protected action in question and the timing of your firing are the clearest and most convincing evidence on your side when proving this kind of wrongful termination.
Some employers do not like their employees to “stir the pot” by discussing questionable working conditions or workplace practices with their colleagues. If you recently discussed similar issues with your coworkers and were fired shortly thereafter, you may have grounds for wrongful termination. If you were having your conversation in good faith, you have grounds to sue your employer for wrongful termination due to the protections in place by the National Labor Relations Act, which provides legal protection for employees engaged in “protected concerted activities” such as discussing workplace conditions and the like.
The United States maintains that it is illegal at the federal level for any employer to mistreat or fire employees on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, or other protected qualities. Employers know this, but some may still engage in discriminatory firings and attempt to hide them with other excuses, such as disciplinary action or poor performance. Wrongful termination may be difficult to prove in this situation unless you have clear and convincing evidence that you were treated differently and unfairly in your workplace due to your protected status.
While it may seem far-fetched to some, the reality is that your medical data and medical history may be more accessible than you realize today. Some employers have faced wrongful termination lawsuits after researching their employees’ medical histories and firing employees on the basis of their medical conditions or the likelihood of developing certain medical conditions.
For example, if an employer uncovers that an employee has an exceptionally high risk of developing cancer, they may fire the employee before they develop this condition in an effort to avoid the expense of paying out health insurance benefits to the employee in the future. In 2008, the US Congress approved the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act in an effort to prevent this type of wrongful termination from occurring.
These are just five possible scenarios that you might encounter that would point to wrongful termination. While you may strongly believe that you have grounds for a successful wrongful termination claim, it’s vital to consider what you hope to accomplish if you decide to pursue your claim in court. For some, financial recovery for lost income, lost benefits, and pain and suffering could be available. For others, they may achieve the satisfaction of knowing an employer did not get away with unethical or discriminatory behavior without consequence. An experienced employment attorney is the ideal resource if you have specific questions about wrongful termination.