Skip to main content
Find a Lawyer
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Wrongful Termination Claims

Wrongful Termination Claims

If your employer fired you recently, and you believe it was unlawful, you may have a claim for wrongful termination. You should contact an attorney immediately if you have a wrongful termination case. All wrongful termination laws contain a statute of limitations that can be as short as one year in some states. You may also need to file a case with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) before bringing a legal claim.

What Makes a Termination Wrongful?

Wrongful termination means an employer has fired an employee for illegal reasons, such as:

  • Discrimination. Firing that violates federal and state anti-discrimination laws. Employers may not fire workers based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or national origin.
  • Breach of contract. Termination that violates oral or written employment agreements.
  • Whistleblower statutes. Firing an employee for "blowing the whistle" on the employer's violation of state or federal laws or unsafe working conditions.
  • Retaliation. Firing an employee for complaining of sexual harassment, discrimination, or creating a hostile workplace.

Even in an "at-will" state, your employer can't fire you for a "violation of public policy." These acts are not always codified in the labor laws, but which society and public policy encourage. They include:

  • Exercising a statutory right, such as voting, engaging in jury duty, or exercising your civil rights.
  • Engaging in an activity that supports the public interest, such as volunteering to help after a natural disaster or other civic duty.
  • Refusing to perform an illegal activity or immoral action. For instance, an employer cannot order an employee to commit perjury and then fire them for not doing so.
  • Reporting an illegal activity. Turning in another worker for breaking the law is still protected, even if it does not fall under whistleblower protections.

Employers may not fire workers if they take time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) since that is job-protected leave. Workers who make a workers' compensation claim and are off work under doctor's orders are also protected.

At-will employment does not protect workers from all termination. Things like a reduction in workforce, going out of business, or an action that is the employee's fault are all legal reasons to fire an employee.

Tips That Can Help After Getting Fired

Termination is always a shock. You need a cool head to think through your next steps. There are things you should do immediately to document what happened. You may need this information to bring a wrongful termination lawsuit.

  • If you have an employment contract, review the provisions of the agreement. Review any promises or guarantees made by your employer. Collect evidence of those promises.
  • If you do not have a contract, review any emails, texts, or other communications for evidence of an implied contract. Your attorney will need these for your case.
  • Ask for the reasons behind your termination. Find out who decided to fire you.
  • Request your personnel file. Ask for your performance reviews. Review company policy about disciplinary action and termination.
  • Gather any documents provided to you by your employer. Save all emails and text messages between you and your employer.
  • Get witness statements from prior coworkers who might have seen wrongful conduct.
  • Return all company property and follow standard post-employment procedures.

FindLaw's Guide to Job Loss has more information.

Legal Remedies

wrongful termination attorney can tell you if you have a claim for wrongful discharge. You should also ask if you need to file an EEOC claim before you can file a wrongful discharge case.

There are a variety of potential legal remedies available if your employer wrongfully terminated your employment. Sometimes, there is more than one wrongdoer who is accountable for damages.

An employer may have to pay damages based on the employee's lost wages and emotional distress. The employer may have to pay punitive damages to the terminated employee.

If the employee is still working, an attorney may be able to negotiate reinstatement or an appropriate severance package. The package should include adequate compensation and unemployment benefits while the employee hunts for a new job.

Severance Packages

Severance pay is not required unless it is in an employment contract or the employee handbook. If there is an existing severance pay policy, this may be an implied contract. If an employee has a potential legal claim for wrongful termination, they may be able to negotiate a severance package in exchange for waiving a legal claim against the employer.

An employment attorney can tell you whether you have a solid wrongful termination claim or if negotiating a severance package would be better. If you determine that a severance package is the best course, here are a few tips:

  • Take time to think over any offers. The first offer may not be the best.
  • Confirm all terms in writing. If your employment lawyer did not negotiate terms, have them look over all agreements before you sign them.
  • If possible, refuse an employer's offer of resignation rather than termination. This preserves your right to collect unemployment.
  • Your severance package should begin as soon as you stop working.
  • Negotiate with the employer to continue providing medical and dental coverage while you are getting severance pay. Your employer must give you COBRA information on continuing your insurance after termination.
  • Ensure that the severance package is not contingent on new employment. You should receive the full payment you deserve for being wrongly terminated, regardless of whether you quickly find a new job.

Talk to a Lawyer Before Filing a Wrongful Termination Claim

You may have rights to severance pay, damages, and unemployment compensation if you were wrongly fired. Talk to an experienced employment law attorney to understand your rights.

Was this helpful?

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:

Next Steps

Contact a qualified employment attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution

Copied to clipboard

Find a Lawyer

More Options