Wrongful termination (or wrongful discharge) occurs when an employee is wrongly fired by his or her employer. Wrongful termination can be based on several theories, such as breach of an employment contract or protection given under the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989.
A majority of workers are employed "at will," which means they do not have a formal employment contract with their employer. This means their employment may be ended at any time. In other cases, workers have signed a written contract that contains an "at will" clause stating an employee can terminate for any reason without cause. But even “at will” employees have certain rights against a wrongful termination and cannot be fired for reasons that violate public policy, or the law.
Both state and federal laws prohibit employers from retaliating against their employees (such as firing them) for whistle blowing.Whistle blowing is when employees provide information to the government about their employer’s illegal actions, such as mismanagement or wasting funds.
Constructive Wrongful Termination
There is another form of wrongful termination called “constructive wrongful termination” that occurs when an employer makes the work conditions so horrible that employees are forced to quit. Federal law states that if conditions or treatment of employees are so severe that a reasonable person could not continue working in that environment, the employee may quit and seek damages for their lost wages.
The law does recognize that employees cannot simply quit and then sue their employer; all workers are first required to use every avenue to resolve workplace issues before quitting. Any employee who fails to try and resolve their issue may forgo their ability to collect compensation.
Other forms of wrongful termination include:
- Being fired while on pregnancy or medical leave
- Being retaliated against after filing a sexual harassment or discrimination complaint
- Being retaliated against for complaining about some unlawful workplace practice
- Being sexually harassed
- Being discriminated against or fired because of your race, age, sex, ethnicity, religion, pregnancy, sexual orientation or disability
- Not being compensated for overtime
- Not given lunch breaks or rest breaks