You were fired from a job you love, a job you really needed to keep. What’s worse, it’s clear that what the company did is is flat-out wrong. Can you sue?
I get this question in my law practice a lot. People complain that they want to sue for wrongful termination. Before someone even begins talking, I tell every body the same thing: “as a general rule, you can’t.” The United States has what you call, “at will employment.” Your employer can fire you at any time for no reason, and you can quit at any time for no reason.
After being fired, you are only entitled to unemployment compensation if you were working long enough to quality. If you are eligible for unemployment, you can receive it for 26 weeks provided that you didn’t quit and you were terminated through no fault of your own.
That’s the general rule: you can’t sue for wrongful discharge. There’s no such thing. However, you can sue for one of the following exceptions:
1) Breach of contract. You must either have a personal employment contract specific to your situation, or be a member of a union where you are covered by a collective bargaining agreement. Employment contracts can specify the length of employment and conditions of termination. If the employer violated the terms of the contract, you can sue for damages which can include lost wages.
2) Employment discrimination. Employment discrimination cases can be subdivided under 5 separate categories: a) race, color, or national origin; b) age discrimination (over 40); c) religious discrimination; d) disability: or e) sex discrimination (sex discrimination includes protection for pregnancy, and freedom from sexual harassment and hostile working conditions).
These are hard claims to prove. To be successful, you need to complain and give the company a reasonable opportunity to take corrective measures. You need corroborating witnesses because discrimination has to be measured by concrete, objective measures. Harassment needs to be objectively offensive, not a subjective response to a one-time comment. If you are in a discriminatory or hostile environment and plan to sue, you should consult an attorney during the harassment.
A third cause of action is whistleblower claims. There are more than 20 whistleblower laws designed to protect workers from retaliation for reporting violations relating to particular industries. The types of industries that have whistleblower protection involve: safety and health, the environment, consumer protection, financial reform, food safety, and others.
Fourth: there’s a cause of action if you’re fired for filling a Workers’ Compensation claim.
That’s it. Large companies have policies, rules, guidelines, and standards, and good companies want to create good, positive work environments to attract good people. However, you can’t sue a company for behaving badly, unfairly, ill- tempered, making bad decisions, or wrongly firing people.
To repeat – employment is at will. You can quit any time, they can fire you at any time. If the employer violates one of the specific employment laws like a contract, discrimination laws, or whistleblower protection, then you can sue for those breaches. Otherwise, you’re limited to unemployment compensation.
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