What is a 'Wrongful Termination Claim'

A wrongful termination claim is filed in a court of law by someone who believes they were wrongly or illegally fired from their job. Wrongful termination claims involve an alleged violation of federal or state anti-discrimination laws, oral and written employment agreements, or labor laws, including collective bargaining laws or whistleblower laws. Employees who feel their termination was a form of sexual harassment or is in retaliation for having filed a complaint or claim against the employer may also file a claim.

Breaking Down 'Wrongful Termination Claim'

Employees who have not been fired yet can negotiate for an appropriate severance package. If they have been fired, they could ask for repayment of money damages. When faced with this type of situation, it is recommended that the employee avoid acting on negative instincts toward the employer but instead contact an employees' rights lawyer for advice and representation. It's also essential to first read the employment contract to find out what rights and resources the employee has available.

Wrongful Termination Claim Examples

For cause: While employment in most states is considered "at will," meaning that employers do not need to have a reason to fire them, individuals whose contracts require a cause for their termination but do not receive one may be eligible to file a wrongful termination claim. This means that employees can only be fired "for cause," meaning a cause must be noted, such as willful misconduct, failure to perform job duties, or divulging company secrets. 

Discrimination: Someone fired because of their gender, race or citizenship status may file a wrongful termination claim. Such protections extend to sexual orientation and pregnant women in some states. These laws fall under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). For more, see Prohibited Employment Policies/Practices and How to File a Charge.

Retaliation: Employers cannot legally punish workers for reporting wrongful activities, such as criminal activity, at work. This is known as whistleblower protection. Also, it is not lawful to terminate a worker simply for filing a workers compensation claim, though any individual asserting that this has happened will have to prove that the measure was retaliatory and not based on work performance or another permitted reason.

Medical History: Under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) employers may not use genetic information when making employment decisions. This includes testing for whether a candidate or employee is at greater risk than average of developing certain diseases or inquiring about family medical history.

Organizing: Under the National Labor Relations Act (NRLA) workers are permitted to engage in "concerted activity" to improve wages or working conditions. Workers need not be in a union to be covered by this protection. While an employer may have grounds to fire an individual for complaining or venting about an employer or boss, they are covered if they work together to improve their working environment.

Wrongful Termination Claim: Legal Action 

Workers who believe that they have been dismissed unlawfully should consult with an attorney. There are different deadlines for state and federal laws so time should not be wasted. Workers should also avoid acting negatively against a former employer. Other steps individuals should take include: reviewing their employment contract (and check if conditions and promises were met); obtaining a personnel file and discovering who was responsible for their firing. Such information will be helpful to an attorney reviewing a potential filing.

For advice on how to file, see the EEOC's How to File a Charge of Employment Discrimination informational page.

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