Learning that you are being fired from your job can be very upsetting and could leave you in a precarious financial situation until you find a new position. If you have been terminated from your job, you might wonder whether your employer’s decision was legal or if you might have grounds to pursue a lawsuit to recover damages. Here are five things you should know about wrongful termination in South Jersey from the employment lawyers at Swartz Swidler to evaluate your potential claim.
1. An Unfair Termination Is Not Necessarily Illegal
While your employer might have fired you for an unfair reason, that does not necessarily mean you have a viable wrongful termination case. Most employees in South Jersey work at will. If you are an at-will employee, this means your employer can decide to fire you whenever it wants and for almost any purpose. However, employers can’t fire employees for illegal reasons, in retaliation for exercising your employee rights, in violation of a public policy, or in violation of a contract or statutorily-provided rights.
If your employer fired you because they simply disliked your personality, that might be unfair, but it isn’t illegal. However, if your employer fired you for one of the reasons discussed below, you may have grounds to file a wrongful termination lawsuit.
2. An Employer Can’t Fire You for an Unlawfully Discriminatory Reason
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination protect employees in South Jersey against workplace discrimination based on certain protected characteristics. Your employer can’t fire you because of any of the following characteristics:
- Gender identity
- Sexual orientation
- Genetic information
- National origin
- Citizenship status
- Family status
- Civil union or marital status
- Military status
If your employer terminated you because of your protected characteristics, you might have a viable wrongful termination lawsuit. This includes firing you based on the employer’s incorrect belief that you are a member of one of the above-listed groups or your associations with people who have protected characteristics.
3. Termination in Breach of an Employment Contract Is Illegal
While most employees in South Jersey are at-will employees, some people work under employment contracts. If you have an employment contract that includes provisions about when and whether your employment relationship can be ended, your employer must comply with the contractual terms.
If your employer fires you in violation of the terms included in an employment contract, you have the right to file a breach of contract wrongful termination lawsuit. Even if you don’t have a formal written employment contract, there are some situations in which a contract might have been formed through an oral promise, workplace policies that provide for progressive discipline before termination, and other ways. An employment lawyer can review what happened to determine whether your termination might have violated a written or implied employment contract.
4. Termination in Violation of Public Policy Is Illegal
Termination in violation of public policy is court-created rather than provided by statute. The New Jersey Supreme Court found that employers can’t terminate someone in violation of a public policy in Pierce v. Ortho Pharmaceutical Corp., 84 N.J 58 (1980).
The following are some examples of when a termination might violate a public policy:
- Firing you for refusing to do something that you reasonably believe is illegal
- Terminating you for providing information to an agency investigating another employee’s discrimination complaint
- Firing you for filing a workers’ compensation claim
- Terminating you for serving on a jury
- Firing you for engaging in legal political activity outside of work
If your employer fired you for a reason that violates a public policy in New Jersey, you might have a viable claim against your employer.
5. Termination in Violation of Statutorily-Provided Rights Is Illegal
Numerous laws protect employees from being terminated for exercising their rights or for reporting their employers for illegal activities or actions that violate public policy.
Some examples of laws that provide statutory rights and protection against retaliatory discharge include the following:
- National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) – Protects employees from termination for discussing their wages with other employees or trying to organize
- Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) – Protects employees from termination for taking qualifying job-protected leave for their medical conditions or those of their family members
- Federal and state whistleblower laws – Multiple laws that protect employees from retaliation for reporting their employer’s illegal activities or actions that violate public policy, safety, health, or welfare
- Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the New Jersey Wage Payment Law – Protect employees from termination for seeking full payment of all wages owed
Contact Swartz Swidler for Help With Wrongful Termination in NJ
If you believe your termination violated public policy, was illegally discriminatory, in breach of an employment contract, or violated your statutorily-provided employee rights, you should contact a wrongful termination attorney in NJ at the South Jersey employment law firm of Swartz Swidler. We have years of experience fighting for the rights of employees and can provide an honest assessment of the merits of your claim. Call us today for a free case evaluation at (856) 685-7420.