When to Report Wrongful Termination

Signs that job may have been wrongfully terminated

By Super Lawyers staff | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on August 31, 2023

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Victims of workplace discrimination need to know how to protect themselves.

Justice starts with reporting wrongful termination. Terminated employees can bring a successful wrongful termination lawsuit if they were fired, laid off, or forced to resign for unlawful reasons. Your former employer does not get to make the final call on whether or not a termination was legal.

In this article, you will find an overview of wrongful termination laws and guidance for reporting the matter. If you have any specific questions, you should call an employment lawyer for help.

What is Wrongful Termination?

Also known as a wrongful dismissal or a wrongful discharge, a wrongful termination is the illegal firing or removal of an employee.

To bring a successful wrongful termination claim, an employee must prove that their rights were violated. This involves more than establishing that they were treated “unfairly.” Rather, an employer must have violated federal or state agency regulations, such as those enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

As explained by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), work is assumed to be ‘at-will employment’ in 49 out of the 50 U.S. states. Montana is the one exception—though the laws there are similar to other states.

Under an at-will system, employers retain wide discretion regarding hiring and firing decisions. A company does not need a “good” or “fair” reason to remove an at-will employee.

Still, they cannot fire a worker for an illegal reason.

When Can You Sue for Wrongful Termination?

You can bring a successful wrongful termination lawsuit if you were fired, laid off, or forced to resign for unlawful reasons.

Your employer does not get to make the final call on whether or not a termination was legal. You can file a lawsuit. There are a number of different grounds to file a wrongful termination claim. The most common include:

  • Employment discrimination claims;
  • Violation of public policy;
  • Retaliation for whistleblower activity;
  • Retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim;
  • Retaliation for taking extended medical leave as protected under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA);
  • Breach of an employment contract if there is one (written contract or implied contract).

Federal and State Anti-Discrimination Laws

Under federal and state laws, employers cannot discriminate against employees on the basis of their race, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, national origin, disability, age, genetic information, or religious affiliation.

Anti-discrimination laws apply to all employment actions, including hiring, performance reviews, promotion or demotion, and firing.

Sexual Harassment Claims

In the context of sexual harassment claims, many wrongful termination lawsuits involve allegations of retaliation.

Federal law prohibits employers from taking adverse action against employees who report sexual harassment or hostile working conditions to human resources, file a discrimination complaint, or testify as a witness in another employee’s lawsuit.

If you reported sexual harassment and you were fired or laid off soon after, you may have been the victim of a wrongful termination.

How Do You Prove Wrongful Termination?

Wrongful termination cases are often highly complex.

Most companies and organizations are well aware of the fact that they cannot remove workers on discriminatory grounds or in retaliation for reporting sexual harassment. As a result, they try to conceal their true motivations with pretextual reasoning—perhaps arguing that an employee was simply removed for “performance” reasons.

This raises an important question: How do you prove wrongful termination?

Similar to other employment lawsuits, a successful wrongful termination claim must always be built on a foundation of reliable supporting evidence.

Gather Evidence Supporting Your Claims

The specific types of evidence will vary based on the underlying facts of the case. It could include everything from witness statements to text messages or emails to admissions of culpability by the harasser.

Many retaliation cases are also backed by a legal concept known as temporary proximity. If an employee was fired (or treated worse) soon after reporting or complaining about sexual harassment, it gives rise to the rebuttable presumption that those two things are causally related.

Learn more about what qualifies as wrongful termination.

Find an Experienced Wrongful Termination Lawyer

If you are a victim of wrongful termination, consider using the Super Lawyers directory to locate an experienced employment law attorney in your area for legal advice. Many attorneys offer free initial consultations to learn more about your case.

For more information about this legal area, see our overview of wrongful termination and related content.

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