What legally constitutes as wrongful termination?

For many U.S. workers, a job not only provides much-needed income, but also a sense of self-esteem, accomplishment and purpose. Often, a job becomes part of an individual's identity and co-workers become trusted colleagues and close friends. For individuals who have been fired or terminated from a job, the financial impact coupled with the blow to an individual's self esteem and psyche can be devastating. This is especially true in cases where an individual's termination is sudden and without warning or just cause.

For employees who are not part of a labor union, their employment is considered to be at will and without guarantee. This means that at any point, an employer or employee can choose to terminate or leave a position without notice. While an individual's employment may be at will, employment laws provide protection to employees whose termination is deemed to be wrongful in nature.

For example, an employer cannot fire an employee based solely on his or her race, sex, religion, age, disability or appearance. Likewise, many employers have company policies related to steps and actions that must be taken prior to an employee's termination. For example, a termination based upon an employee's poor job performance may require a manager to provide two written or verbal warnings to an employee in advance of termination.

In cases where an individual believes he or she has been wrongfully terminated, it's important to have documentation or evidence related to an employer's actions prior to a wrongful termination. Was an employee engaged in union-forming activities at the time of dismissal? Did an employee who was terminated complain about an employer's unsafe working conditions or illegal business activities? Did an employer fail to follow company employment termination policies?

In many cases, an employee's termination may not be fair, but it's important to distinguish between what's fair and what's wrongful or illegal. An attorney who specializes in employment law can assist in helping determine whether legal action is appropriate.

Source: Findlaw.com, "Wrongful Termination, 2014

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