Would You Know If You Were Fired Illegally?

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Wrongful termination lawyers actually tend to focus on multiple employee laws, but there’s one question that sums up their work: when is it illegal for an employer to fire an employee? Unfortunately, this is a question that few workers know the answer to, putting millions of employees at a disadvantage when it comes to making sure they’re not exploited in the workplace.

You might have heard of unfair dismissal claims, but when, exactly, might you be justified in filing one? Here are the situations under which you might be able to demonstrate unfair or wrongful dismissal:

  1. Discrimination

    Employers may not discriminate against employees who are part of a protected class such as race, national origin, creed or gender. Federal law prohibits discriminating against workers 40 and older; some states have more stringent laws that also protect younger workers from age discrimination. It’s important to remember that “unfairness” isn’t tantamount to discrimination. An employer can fire an employee for many reasons that are unfair but don’t fall under these very specific legal protections.

  2. Retaliation

    Employers may not fire employees for performing legally protected actions such as filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, reporting a workplace safety violation, making a sexual harassment claim or blowing the whistle on illegal company activities.

  3. Breach of Contract

    Most employment in the United States is “at will” (meaning employers do not have to give cause for firing an employee), but a wrongful termination lawsuit may still be applicable if the employer made specific written or implicit promises regarding the duration of employment or related matters.

  4. Breaches of Good Faith

    These boundaries are a little fuzzier, but an employer may sometimes act so unfairly that it can be considered a breach of good faith and fair dealing. Examples of this would include firing an employee to avoid paying them sales commissions, fabricating a justification to fire an employee when the true motivation is replacing them with a lower-paid worker, or misleading employees about advancement opportunities.

  5. Violation of Public Policy

    It’s generally recognized that employers may not fire employees for actions such as taking time off for jury duty, taking time off to vote or taking time off to serve in the National Guard or military reserves.

What else do you think wrongful termination lawyers wish more workers knew? Discuss or ask questions in the comments.

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