Wrongful termination can occur if you have a contract or if you are an “at-will” employee. Even though employers have the right to fire at-will employees for no reason at all, they are prohibited from firing them for certain specific reasons, such as discrimination or in retaliation for reporting legal violations. If you have been fired or laid-off, or believe that you are about to be, and believe that you are the victim of wrongful termination an employment attorney can help you understand and pursue your legal rights.
Basis for Wrongful Termination
All of the following are among the many reasons for firing or laying off an employee which are illegal or can be the basis for a wrongful termination claim:
- Violation of labor laws
- Breach of contract
- Retaliation, such as for reporting discrimination or other illegal activity or for filing a Workers’ Compensation claim
- Termination for refusal to participate in illegal activity, including violation of safety regulations
- Termination for taking time off when that time off is legally protected, such for voting, jury duty, or military service
- Termination which is in violation of the employer’s termination or disciplinary policies and procedures
Remedies and Compensation
The legal actions you should take and the remedies available to you will depend on the circumstances and the nature of the wrongful termination. For instance, if you were fired as an act of discrimination, you may need to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or a state agency before you can move forward to a lawsuit. If that discrimination was based on a disability your employer may be required to make reasonable accommodations, reinstate you, and pay you back pay.
In general, victims of wrongful termination may receive:
- Injunctive relief
- Reasonable accommodation
- Back pay
- Severance package
- Compensatory damages
- Punitive damages
Wrongful Termination and Unemployment Benefits
Unemployment compensation is an insurance program, not welfare. You must meet certain criteria to be eligible for unemployment benefits, such as having worked for a certain amount of time before becoming unemployed.
In most cases you are not eligible for unemployment if you have quit your job, although there are some exceptions. If you were fired or laid off, and meet the other criteria, you can usually draw unemployment benefits, unless you were terminated for “misconduct”. A single incident does not constitute misconduct unless it was very extreme.
If you have been wrongfully terminated your employer may try to contest your eligibility for unemployment benefits by claiming that you quit your job or that you were fired for misconduct, in an attempt to cover up the real reason you were fired and maintain consistent documentation and evidence in their favor. Some employers will also wrongfully contest unemployment eligibility to keep their unemployment insurance rates from going up.