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Wrongful Termination Checklist

If you've been fired from a job, review this wrongful termination checklist to see if your discharge might have been illegal. Wrongful termination is any firing that is done in violation of federal, state, or local laws. Wrongful termination may also be a violation of the terms of an employment agreement.

See FindLaw's Wrongful Termination section for additional articles and resources, including Was I Wrongfully Discharged From My Job?

Evidence of Employment Discrimination

Federal laws enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) protect employees from being fired or otherwise discriminated against due to their age, disability, gender, genetic information, national origin, race, religion, or sex. Several states and localities also prohibit employment discrimination based on gender identity or sexuality.

If you answer "yes" to any of the following questions, you may have a valid claim for wrongful termination on the basis of discrimination:

  • Is there any direct evidence that you were terminated because of discriminatory reasons? Evidence may include direct statements from your employers, either verbally or in writing.
  • Is there circumstantial evidence of discriminatory reasons? For example, were women the only employees fired in recent layoffs, or were you terminated soon after an employer learned your age, religion, or ethnicity?
  • Are similar employees treated differently on the basis of age, gender, race, or other protected category? For example, if an employer routinely allows younger employees to be late but fires a late elderly worker, this may be evidence of age discrimination.
  • Did an employer, supervisor, or superior make comments or take actions that would indicate they may have a bias against certain groups? If so, were such statements made before other witnesses?
  • Did an employer or supervisor make any comments to indicate that they prefer one group of employees over another? For example, an employer who says that recent college graduates make the best new hires or that he works best with women may be demonstrating a bias against others.

Harassment in the Workplace

Employment laws also prohibit harassment based on age, race, gender, and other protected categories. For example, offensive remarks about an employee's race or gender can constitute harassment. Inappropriate comments may create a hostile work environment for employees.

You might consider filing a wrongful termination claim on the basis of harassment if any of the following occurred:

  • Did an employer, supervisor, or superior make offensive or insulting comments about age, disability, gender, genetic information, national origin, race, religion, sexuality, or sex? Even general comments that are not directed at a specific employee can create a hostile workplace.
  • Were offensive comments made regularly or in front of others?
  • Did an employer make unwelcome sexual advances or request sexual favors or seek to establish a romantic or sexual relationship?
  • If an employee and employer were engaged in a relationship, did that relationship, or its end, result in the employee's termination or negative treatment?

Workplace Retaliation

Employers cannot fire or otherwise punish employees for their participation in protected practices. Protected practices include reporting illegal behavior, such as discrimination or safety violations, within the company or to outside enforcement agencies. They also include participating in any government investigation into potentially illegal behavior, such as cooperating with investigators researching minimum wage violations.

The following questions will help you determine whether you have a valid claim for wrongful termination on the basis of retaliation:

  • Before being fired, did you report potential violations in the company to a supervisor, colleagues, your human resources department, or an enforcement agency such as OSHA or the EEOC?
  • If so, did your employer or supervisors react negatively or engage in any punishing behavior?
  • Before being fired, did you participate in an investigation of the company's behavior or practices?
  • Were you discouraged from or warned against participating in a government investigation?
  • Were you discouraged from or punished for exercising your legal rights, such as by taking covered medical leave?

Breach of Employment Contract

Firing a worker in violation of an employment agreement can also constitute wrongful termination. While some workers have written contracts, even those without may have an implied contract, created through their employer's words or actions or even through a detailed employee handbook.

If you answer "yes" to any of the following, then you may be able to file a claim for wrongful termination due to breach of employment contract:

  • Were you working under a written contract? If so, did it establish permissible reasons for termination or a termination procedure?
  • Did your employer have a detailed employee handbook? Did the company policy handbook cover termination, discipline, advancement, etc.?
  • Did your employer, supervisor, or superior make any verbal promises, such as saying your job was "guaranteed" or ensuring you "tenure" at work?
  • Did your employer, supervisor, or superior make any statements indicating that you could only be fired for specific reasons?

Were You Wrongfully Terminated? Get Help Today From an Attorney

If you answered yes to any of the questions on this wrongful termination checklist, you may have a valid claim. If so, you may be entitled to compensation or even reinstatement of your job. An employment law attorney can discuss your circumstances and investigate what options may be available to you.

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