When a lousy employer fires you for no good reason, it feels like the last straw. But there’s a difference between getting fired because your boss is a jerk, and getting fired illegally. The importance of understanding your rights as an employee intensifies when you don’t know what to do, other than quit.
Before you do, consult a law firm composed of unfair dismissal lawyers who can assess your situation and advise you. Recognize the importance of understanding your rights as an employee before you consider a lawsuit.
All states except Montana recognize some form of “at-will” employment. Employment “at-will” means that an employer can fire an employee for any legal reason, or for no reason at all. It also means an employee can quit for any reason or no reason, at any time.
No employer, even an “at-will” employer, can fire someone for an illegal reason. You can’t be fired because of your race, color, national origin, sex, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.
The law also prohibits employers from firing people for filing legal complaints about discrimination, for reporting or refusing to engage in illegal activity (whistleblowing), or for another reason that violates public policy. Firing someone for taking time to serve on a jury, to vote, or for serving in the National Guard, for example, would impact the common good and therefore violate public policy.
Employers are required to comply with the terms of a legal contract of employment that specifies, or implies, a fixed term of employment or a promise of continued employment. While it is difficult to prove an implied employment contract, employers sometimes do or say things that create one.
To protect themselves from claims of an implied employment contract, employers will put language in offer letters specifically stating that the offer is for “at will” employment and that no contract exists. But they can diminish the impact of that language by ignoring written policies and procedures employees expect them to follow.
Likewise, if an employer lured someone into employment with false promises about pay or working conditions, and then fires that person for complaining, they may have committed actionable fraud.
When an employer deliberately makes you so miserable that you quit, they may have created a “constructive discharge.” Scenarios that may amount to constructive discharge are multiple job transfers to remote or dangerous locations, demotions and pay cuts, assigning work that is far beneath the employee’s skills, or assigning an impossible amount of work to create a pretext for poor performance evaluations leading to termination.
Every wrongful termination case depends on the specific circumstances between the employer and employee. When you realize the importance of understanding your rights as an employee, you can identify whether your situation may be wrongful termination. Consult a lawyer to learn if you have a case to try to regain your job or receive back pay or damages for lost opportunities.