Do I Have a Wrongful Termination Case?
Reviewed by Carina Jenkins, J.D.
If you feel you’ve been wrongfully terminated from your job, you may wish to speak with an attorney to learn about your options.
Here’s how to tell if you have a wrongful termination case worth pursuing and what you can do to increase your chances of success.
Employment law is rather specific when it comes to wrongful termination. Companies aren’t required to provide reasons for firing or laying an employee off, but they do need to follow certain laws.
Wrongful termination occurs when an employer fires someone due to their religion, race, gender or sexual orientation. Employees are also protected by whistleblower laws that prevent companies from firing them when they report illegal or unethical activities.
If you feel you’ve been wrongfully terminated, you first need to review whether any laws were broken when your previous employer terminated your work relationship. Many people feel that the circumstances of their termination were unfair, but this doesn’t always make it illegal. The best way to determine if you have a case is to speak with a wrongful termination attorney. You should also be aware that wrongful termination laws can vary by state.
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If an employer is willing to terminate you in an illegal manner, they’ll likely state that you were laid off or fired for a different reason. One of the first things that you need to prove when making a case for wrongful termination is that the employer’s reasons for firing you are false. Employers often claim that they’ve ended employment relationships due to poor job performance, misconduct in the workplace, breaches of company policy or excessive tardiness and absenteeism.
If you can prove that the reason for your termination is false, you’ve cleared a significant hurdle in making a case for wrongful termination. The second step is to document how the termination was illegal. Here are some ways that an employer can fire someone illegally:
- Retaliating to whistleblowers by ending their employment shortly after they’ve reported wrongdoing
- Firing someone who has brought up claims of sexual harassment
- Violating the company’s own public employment policies
- Failing to honor the terms of an employment contract
- Terminating employment as retaliation for taking a protected leave of absence
- Retaliating against an employee who files a worker’s compensation claim
- Terminating an employee due to their age, gender, race or religion
- Subjecting an employee to poor work conditions in an effort to get them to leave voluntarily
- Violating laws protecting pregnant women or people with disabilities
While you should speak with a wrongful termination lawyer as soon as possible, you also need to gather documentation to support your claims. For example, you should always retain records that show you’ve been present at work consistently. Other documentation might include your past performance reviews, statements from coworkers and supervisors and any other pertinent information.
For example, if your employer claims that you were fired for poor job performance and you can show that you got excellent performance reviews, this lets you show that the math isn’t adding up. If you’ve filed a complaint against another coworker or exercised your whistleblower rights, make sure you document when you took action, who you spoke to and when these interactions occurred. Your attorney can provide additional assistance by contacting potential witnesses, conducting an investigation and helping you create a legal strategy.
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There are several forms of damages you can claim in a wrongful termination case, but laws vary by state. Here are the three possible types of damages and how they affect your compensation in a settlement or judgment:
Economic damages are lost wages and out-of-pocket expenses you wouldn’t have needed to pay if it weren’t for your termination. For example, if the incident damaged your reputation and made it more difficult for you to gain employment elsewhere, you could also argue that as a form of economic damages.
Non-economic damages are the type of damages that may not have a monetary value, such as pain and suffering. If your termination caused you undue emotional distress due to repeated abuse or harassment, compensation for your emotional state would be considered non-economic because it may require years of counseling and therapy to move past the events.
Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant in a lawsuit. They’re awarded if a court or jury decides that the defendant acted in such a wrongful manner that they should suffer additional consequences. For example, if a company fires someone for filing a sexual harassment claim or taking action after learning about illegal business practices, a jury could decide to award punitive damages to show the company those actions are especially heinous.
If you feel that the circumstances for your termination were illegal, you should speak with an attorney and learn more about your workers’ rights. Make sure that you keep good records of your job performance reviews, attendance records and other information that can help you prove your case.
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