What do I Need to Know about Wrongful Termination Laws?

Every state has laws concerning wrongful termination from employment designed as a safeguard to provide a method compensation for the consequences of unlawful termination. Wrongful termination laws are not concerned with whether or not a termination of employment was fair to either party, but instead focus on whether or not a termination qualifies as “wrongful”.

What is wrongful termination?

When an employee is laid off or fired by an employer in a way that violates the employee’s legal rights, it is considered wrongful termination. In most states, simply demonstrating unfair treatment by the employer is not going to be adequate grounds for a wrongful termination ruling. The employee and their lawyer must demonstrate that the discharge was “wrongful” because it violated one or more legal rights of the employee.

What is an “at Will” State?

Every state in the U.S., with the exception of Montana, has now become an “at will” state when it comes to employment. This means your employer has the right to fire you at any time, independent of a reason and that employees can leave a job at any point without a reason. Exceptions to the “at will” mandate depend on where you work and include violations such as public policy, breach of good faith, and discrimination. It is only when one of these exceptions to wrongful termination laws applies that you may have a case.

Public Policy Violation Exceptions

The public policy exception may apply to an employee who acts in compliance with public policy such as reporting illegal activity, elderly abuse or neglect. It can also apply for an employee who refuses to act in violation of public policy upon request of the employer, such as dumping waste in prohibited areas and refusal to commit perjury. The seven states that do not have the public policy exception are Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, Nebraska, Maine, New York and Florida.

Breach of Contract

Exceptions to the “at will” employment law, where statements by the employer specifically expressed or implied a promise of some kind of job security, are supported by roughly half of U.S. states. Cases where the employee handbook or a unilateral contract promises no discharge without “just cause” and without adherence to certain procedures are supported more than a verbal promise for job security. Check the specifics of the wrongful termination laws in your state to determine how this exception applies for you.

Breach of Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealings

The Breach of Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealings exception deals with cases where employees argue that although there was no written promise of job security, the employer’s repeated positive action implied job security. Long term employees who received positive employee evaluations and promotions may argue that future job security was an implied reward for good performance. Documentation of personnel policy violation, lack of previous performance criticism and general fairness, are factors in these rulings.

If an employee feels that the wrongful termination laws have been broken by their discharge from employment, it’s important to first check into and be aware of how the wrongful termination laws apply in your state. Once you have a basic understanding of the laws, a lawyer can help you decide whether or not your discharge went beyond unfair and is actually a violation of your rights.