If you have been fired from your job, you might wonder whether your termination was illegal. Wrongful termination happens when workers are fired in violation of local, state, or federal laws or in violation of the terms of an employment contract. If you believe that your employer terminated you in violation of the law, the attorneys at Swartz Swidler might be able to help you.
What is wrongful termination?
Wrongful termination occurs when a worker is fired for an illegal purpose. If your employer fired you because of your sex, race, age, color, religion, disability, national origin, or pregnancy, it is discriminatory in nature and is illegal. If you are unsure of whether your employer’s reason for firing you was based on discrimination, you can think through the following things:
- Whether your employer made discriminatory statements either orally or in writing
- Whether your termination happened right after your employer found out your religion, race, age, or other protected characteristic
- Whether you are a part of a limited group that were laid off such as all women or all people older than 40
- Whether your employer treated employees differently based on their protected characteristics
- Whether your employer disciplines members of a protected group more harshly than other workers
- Whether your employer gives better assignments to workers who do not have protected characteristics
If you are able to answer any of these questions affirmatively, your termination was possibly illegal.
Some employers harass workers in the workplace based on their protected characteristics. If your employer has made offensive jokes or comments about your protected characteristics that are continuous enough to create a hostile work environment, your termination might have been illegal.
Illegal harassment also includes unwanted sexual comments, sexual touching, and sexual requests especially when they are conditioned on you keeping your job or having an opportunity for advancement.
If your employer fired you because you participated in a protected activity, it could be illegal retaliation. Some examples of protected activities include reporting your employer’s illegal behavior, reporting OSHA violations, reporting discrimination or harassment, or taking family and medical leave, military leave, or jury duty leave. Employers are prohibited from firing employees to retaliate against them for engaging in these types of activities.
Consider whether you were fired after you reported issues to your supervisor or to a governmental agency. If you were fired, think about how your employer responded to the report that you made. Think about whether you participated in an investigation of your employer’s conduct or business operations or if your employer warned against reporting or participating. If you are able to answer any of these questions in the affirmative, your termination may have been illegal.
Employers are not allowed to fire employees when doing so is in violation of their employment contracts. If an employer fires you in violation of your employment agreement, it may have been illegal. A contract may be found to exist even when there isn’t a formal, written contract when its existence can be implied.
Some of the things to ask yourself to determine whether your termination may have been a breach of contract include the following:
- Whether there was a written contract with well-defined termination reasons and procedures outlined
- Whether your company has a detailed handbook with sections on discipline and termination
- Whether your supervisor or employer made verbal or written promises to you that your job was guaranteed or that offered you tenure
- Whether your employer said that you could only be fired for specific reasons
If you are able to answer yes to any of these questions, you may have been terminated because of a breach of your employment contract.
Contact Swartz Swidler
If you think that you have been wrongfully fired from your job or need help figuring out whether your termination was illegal, you should talk to an experienced employment lawyer at Swartz Swidler. We can assess your potential claim and explain whether valid legal grounds appear to exist to file a case. Contact us today to schedule a free and confidential consultation.