Being fired from your job can be an incredibly upsetting and difficult experience. While you might feel like your termination was unjustified, that does not mean that it was illegal. However, there are certain situations in which an employer’s adverse employment actions violate the law. Understanding when your termination might be illegal and when it is not is important for protecting your rights. The definition of what makes a termination wrongful is quite specific and might include violations of anti-discrimination laws or employment contracts. For example, while most employees are employed at will, an employer can’t decide to fire them simply because of their race, color, sex, or other protected characteristics.
Similarly, employers can’t retaliate against you because you filed a complaint about their safety violations, illegal conduct, or unethical actions. They also can’t fire you in violation of an employment contract. These types of actions might qualify for wrongful termination lawsuits because they violate the law. However, proving a wrongful termination claim can be difficult. Here is what you need to know from the lawyers at Swartz Swidler.
Understanding At-Will Employment
Most employees in New Jersey are employed at will. If you are an at-will employee, your employer can fire you for any reason and at any time. Similarly, you can also quit your job at any time and for any reason. However, just because you might be an at-will employee doesn’t give your employer the right to fire you in violation of state or federal anti-discrimination or whistleblower laws. Instead, there are legal limits on the types of reasons on which employees can base their adverse employment decisions. For example, an employer can fire you just because it dislikes your personality. Even though that might not seem fair, it is legal. By contrast, an employer can’t fire you because it thinks that you are unqualified for your job based on being a woman. That is because it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against you based on your gender. Similarly, employers can’t base termination decisions on other protected characteristics such as race, religion, national origin, etc.
Employers do not have to provide employees with reasons for why they are being terminated. Despite this, most employers do choose to provide reasons for why they fired employees. If you have an employment contract that outlines the reasons for why your employment relationship might be terminated, your employer can’t terminate you for a reason that is not listed. Even if you don’t have an employment contract, your termination might be unlawful if it was in retaliation for your protected activities or was based on illegal discrimination.
What Is Wrongful Termination?
What might be categorized as wrongful termination will depend on federal and state laws. Wrongful termination refers to an illegal action taken by an employer to fire or lay off an employee for unlawful reasons. For example, if your employer fired you because of a discriminatory reason, participating in whistleblowing, or in violation of your employment contract, that would be a wrongful termination. By contrast, if your employer fired you for poor performance or laid you off because the company was downsizing or going out of business, that might not qualify for a wrongful termination complaint. An attorney can help you understand whether your potential claim is legally merited.
What Legal Remedies Might Be Available?
If you believe that your case qualifies as wrongful termination, you should talk to an experienced attorney for advice about your claim. You might be eligible to pursue damages for your losses. Some of the types of damages that might be recoverable include the following:
- Back pay
- Front pay
- Job reinstatement
- Lost benefits
- Emotional distress
- Attorney’s fees and legal costs
- Other losses
Depending on your former employer’s actions, you might also be eligible for punitive damages. These are damages that are meant to punish employers that have acted egregiously and might be ordered in addition to any compensatory damages.
If you have an employment contract, you should review it to understand the written promises that your employer made to you, including any provisions addressing termination. Whether or not you have an employment contract, you should ask your employer for clarification about the reasons why you are being terminated. Ask to see your personnel file, and get copies of your performance evaluations. Save all text messages, emails, policies, employee handbook, and other documents from your employer. These types of documents can help your attorney evaluate your case and determine whether your termination was wrongful. If you think you were fired because of a discriminatory reason, document all instances of discrimination, including the dates, times, and witnesses who were present.
One crucial aspect of determining whether your termination was wrongful is when other employees who engaged in similar acts were not terminated. Your lawyer can use that type of information to search for evidence that you were discriminated against because of your protected characteristics. For example, if your employer fired you for being five minutes late one time but didn’t fire someone else without your protected characteristics who was routinely late, the reason provided by your employer might be a pretext for discrimination.
Schedule a Free Case Evaluation
If you think that your employer fired you illegally, you should consult the knowledgeable employment lawyers at Swartz Swidler. We can review the evidence you have gathered to help you determine whether you have grounds for a claim. Call us today to schedule a consultation at 856-685-7420.