Being terminated from your job can be devastating. If you were recently fired, you might wonder whether you have grounds to file a wrongful termination lawsuit against your former employer. However, not all terminations are illegal even when they might seem unfair. Before you file a wrongful termination case, it’s important to understand what qualifies as a legally merited claim. Speaking with a lawyer for wrongful termination at Swartz Swidler can help you understand the merits of your case and whether you might have grounds to file a lawsuit. Here’s some information about wrongful termination that might help you understand whether you should speak to a wrongful termination lawyer.
What Is Wrongful Termination?
Wrongful termination occurs when an employer fires an employee for an illegal reason, in violation of an employment contract, or in violation of public policy. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and amendments to this law prohibit employers from firing employees because of their protected characteristics. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) also prohibits discrimination based on certain protected characteristics. These laws prohibit illegal workplace discrimination and harassment. The following are some examples of characteristics that are protected:
- National origin
- Gender identity
- Sexual orientation
- Citizenship status
- Genetic information
- Pregnancy status
If your employer terminated you based on any of these characteristics, your firing was illegal.
Employers also can’t fire employees in violation of an employment contract that includes specific situations under which they can be fired. When an employee is terminated for a reason other than what is included in the employment contract, the employee might have a claim for wrongful termination.
Other types of situations in which an employer might have committed a wrongful termination include firing an employee for refusing to commit a requested illegal act or terminating an employee for filing a complaint. Employers are also prohibited from terminating employees for exercising their rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), performing jury duty, or serving in the military.
Employers can’t retaliate against employees for exercising their rights under the FMLA and state and federal whistleblower laws. Whistleblower laws encourage employees to report illegal conduct committed by their employers against the government and provide incentives for coming forward. These laws also prohibit employers from taking retaliatory action against employees who file reports or participate in investigations conducted by government agencies. If you reported your employer’s illegal conduct and were fired in retaliation, you might have a valid wrongful termination case.
Examples of Lawful Termination
Most reasons for firing employees that are not included above are legal. Some examples might include terminations when an employer is reducing its workforce or going out of business. Employers can also fire employees for violating the company’s policies, performing poorly, or committing a prohibited act. Because of the at-will employment laws, employers can also fire you for any legal reason or none at all.
When you think about your termination and question whether it was illegal, you should consider what happened around the event. If you believe your employer unlawfully discriminate against you or violated an employment contract, gather any evidence you can that could show it, including text messages, emails, personnel records, performance reviews, your original employment contract, and others.
What Is At-Will Employment?
Every state follows an at-will employment rule. This means that your employer can fire you at any time and for any reason as long as it is a legal reason. For example, an employer could fire you because they don’t like your personality. While that might feel unfair, it isn’t illegal. An employer can even fire you even if they don’t have a good reason as long as their purpose is not illegal or contrary to public policy. As an at-will employee, you also have the right to quit your job at any time and for any reason. Proving that your termination was illegal can be more difficult because of the at-will employment rules, but being an at-will employee does not give your employer the right to fire you in violation of the law, an employment contract, or public policy.
Some examples of terminations in violation of public policy include the following:
- Firing someone for filing a claim for workers’ compensation after being injured on the job
- Requesting or taking leave from work under the FMLA
- Serving on a jury
- Serving in the U.S. Armed Forces
- Terminating an employee in violation of an implied contract
Wrongful Termination Statute of Limitations
All states have established statutes of limitations for different types of legal actions, including wrongful termination cases. These laws provide deadlines for filing lawsuits. If you miss the deadline, you will not be able to pursue your claim. In New Jersey, the general statute of limitations for wrongful termination claims is two years from the date you were fired. If the underlying illegal reason requires you to exhaust administrative remedies before filing a lawsuit, you must meet the deadlines set by the administrative agencies. For example, if you were wrongfully terminated for an illegally discriminatory reason, you must first file a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and/or the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights within 300 days from the date of your termination. The agency will then conduct an investigation that must be completed before you can file a lawsuit.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Wrongful Termination?
If you believe you were illegally terminated, you should talk to an experienced wrongful termination attorney at Swartz Swidler. Wrongful termination cases are complex, and your chances of succeeding with your claim are much better when you are represented by an attorney. Call us today to request a free case evaluation at (856) 685-7420.