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Do I Need a Wrongful Termination Lawyer?

If you believe you've lost your job for an unlawful reason, you may have a claim for wrongful termination against your former employer. This is true even if your employer fired you "for cause." Bringing a wrongful termination action can be challenging and involves complicated legal proceedings. Consulting with an employment law attorney may be in your best interests.

Here, we will discuss how wrongful termination lawsuits work. We will also explain how a wrongful termination attorney can help you. Whether you're suing for discrimination or breach of contract, an experienced attorney can make the difference between winning and losing.

'At-Will' Employment

Most people who work in the U.S. are at-will employees. Your employer can fire you in an at-will employment state (which is all but Montana). They don't need to have any reason at all.

There are exceptions to this rule. Firms cannot fire at-will employees for an unlawful reason. Also, while employers don't have to give a reason for firing an at-will employee, many do. In these cases, the courts will treat your termination as being "for cause."

Unless you have a contract with your employer, the courts presume that you're an at-will employee. To be safe, many employers confirm this in their employee handbooks.

Unlawful Reasons for Termination

When a company fires an employee, they usually have good reason to do so. Perhaps the employee was perpetually late or absent. Maybe the employee hadn't met their sales quota for months. Whatever the reason, as long as it's legal, you'll have difficulty proving your wrongful discharge lawsuit.

What employers cannot do is fire workers for unlawful reasons. Unlawful reasons for termination include the following:

  • Firing a worker in violation of anti-discrimination law
  • Terminating an employee because they filed a claim for sexual harassment
  • Firing someone in violation of labor laws
  • Terminating a worker out of retaliation

Of course, this list isn't exhaustive. Your experienced lawyer will likely offer a free case evaluation when you meet with them. This allows them to see if your employer had discriminatory reasons to let you go. They'll also investigate to see if the basis for your termination was for an illegal reason.

Wrongful Termination Cases

An attorney considers several facts when analyzing a wrongful termination case. There are many types of wrongful termination, and they all require a unique approach. For example, if your company fires you because you took time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), your attorney will use federal laws to support your claim.

Wrongful termination law covers a range of topics. For instance, you want legal representation that understands worker's compensation claims if that's why your company let you go. You also want someone who understands personal injury law. If you do sue, you'll have to prove your damages. This can be more difficult than you may imagine.

Some of the more common types of wrongful termination include the following:

  • Violation of the employment contract
  • Alleged violation of company policy
  • Terminations that fly in the face of public policy
  • FMLA cases
  • Discrimination cases (gender, age, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, etc.)
  • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) violations
  • Differential treatment among you and your coworkers
  • Retaliation and whistleblowing cases

We will discuss each of these in more detail below.

Employment Contract Violation

If you have an employment contract, your employer must comply with the contract's terms. If your agreement explicitly lists reasons why the company can fire you, your employer can't fire you for an unlisted reason.

Most employees don't have written employment contracts. If you do, your attorney will work with you to review the contract and determine if it has stated reasons for termination.

Alleged Violation of Company Policy

You receive a copy of your company's employee handbook when you start a new job. This handbook includes copies of the firm's policies and procedures. This includes any disciplinary policies.

Most employers require their staff to sign their handbook. This acknowledges that they understand the policies. This way, if your manager writes you up for an infraction, there is no question about whether you were aware of the policy.

If your employer fires you for an alleged policy violation, you can dispute it. This is within your legal rights as an employee. Your attorney will help determine if your employer followed their disciplinary policies. If they didn't, you have a valid claim for breach of an implied contract.

Public Policy Violations

While they don't happen often, there are wrongful discharge cases that involve a public policy violation. According to the Restatement (Second) of Torts, four types of public policy violations exist.

These categories include:

  • Employees Exercising a Statutory Right: State laws provide workers compensation protection for employees hurt on the job. Your employer can't fire you simply because you filed a worker's comp claim.
  • Engaging in Any Act That Supports the Public Interest: Imagine a natural disaster in your region. You want to volunteer to help people hurt in the disaster. Your employer would not gain favor with the courts if they fired you for taking two days off to join the volunteer efforts.
  • Refusing To Engage in Illegal, Unethical, or Immoral Acts: If you report your company for doing something illegal or unethical, they can't retaliate against you. For example, if you report your company for dumping toxic waste into a nearby river, they can't legally fire you.
  • Reporting a Violation of the Law: Most people refer to this as whistleblowing. Your employer can't fire people for honoring a legal duty to report.

FMLA Cases

The Family and Medical Leave Act is a federal law protecting workers dealing with medical issues. The issue can lie with the employee or an immediate family member. For example, if you have a baby, you are typically able to take up to six weeks to recover and bond with your child. You can also request time off under FMLA to care for a sick parent or child.

If your employer fires you because you took time off under FMLA, you can sue for wrongful termination. The government offers this leave, and employers cannot punish workers for taking advantage of it.


Many wrongful termination cases involve discrimination. Historically, these cases have been hard to prove. But recently, the courts are holding employers to a higher standard regarding discrimination.

Some of the more common types of discrimination cited in wrongful termination lawsuits include:

  • Sexual discrimination
  • Gender discrimination
  • Discrimination based on sexual orientation
  • Age discrimination
  • Discrimination against disabled workers
  • Discrimination based on national origin, race, ethnicity, and religion

Contact a law office immediately if you believe your employer fired you for discriminatory reasons. The more time you let go by, the harder it will be to prove your case. Your coworkers may not remember what happened and won't be able to testify on your behalf.

There is also the chance of paperwork disappearing or getting lost or destroyed. This will make your lawyer's job a lot harder than it needs to be.

EEOC Violations

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) job is to protect people from discrimination in the workplace. The EEOC deals with more than just wrongful termination cases. They also intervene when a company denies a promotion because of someone's race, age, or sexual orientation.

If you believe you're the victim of discrimination in the workplace, you can file a complaint with the EEOC. Once you file your complaint, this report and the follow-up EEOC investigation will help support your allegations of wrongful discharge.

Differential Treatment

Imagine that your employer fires you for performance issues. Your employment attorney will look for information on whether the company fired other employees for the same performance problems.

If not, your attorney will seek evidence that suggests your employer treated you differently based on a legally protected status, such as your gender, race, disability, ethnicity, age, or sexual orientation.

Your attorney will also look for evidence proving the reason for your termination was false. This false reason is called a “pretext," and you can base your lawsuit on it.

Retaliation and Whistleblowers

If you made a workplace complaint or "blew the whistle" on illegal activity at work, there's a good chance you'll lose your job. This may give rise to a lawsuit for retaliation. Your attorney will work with the authorities to confirm whether your employer retaliated against you.

These cases take a lot of work to prove. Your coworkers may be afraid to support you in fear that they'll lose their jobs, too. There's also a strong likelihood that your employer will lie. They'll scramble to find some other legitimate reason for firing you.

How Long Do You Have to File Your Wrongful Termination Claim?

One of the reasons we suggest you seek legal advice right away is that you don't want to miss your filing deadline. Every state has a statute of limitations spelling out how long you must file your wrongful termination lawsuit.

The statute of limitations period for wrongful discharge in most states is two years. If you miss this filing deadline, the court will dismiss your case. You'll also lose any chance of suing your employer in the future.

Damages in a Wrongful Termination Claim

The reason you file a wrongful termination case is to recover damages. When your attorney files your lawsuit, they must list your damages.

In most wrongful termination cases, you can demand the following:

  • Lost pay
  • Back pay
  • Lost benefits
  • Emotional distress
  • Punitive damages
  • Attorney's fees

There's no guarantee you'll receive all of these. There's no guarantee that you'll win your case. It depends on what your attorney can prove and your case's legal issues.

Do You Need a Wrongful Termination Lawyer? Find One Near You

Consulting with an attorney is essential if you believe you're the victim of wrongful termination. The legal process can be challenging. Your attorney can provide the expert advice you need. If you believe your employer fired you unlawfully, you'll want to meet with an employment lawyer in your area today.

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