Colorado Wrongful Termination


Area of Law: 

An employment termination is considered wrongful if an employer has fired or laid off an employee for illegal reasons. Although employment relationships in Colorado are "at-will," which means that either the employer or the employee may end the relationship at any time with or without reason, federal law does not allow employers to act in a discriminatory manner.


In Colorado, there are two exceptions to the at-will rule which are based on the legal principles of public policy and implied contracts:

  • The public policy exception provides that an employee cannot be fired for performing a legal duty or exercising a legal right.
  • A binding employment relationship may be found to have been created by an implied or an express contract. This theory may come into play in situations in which procedures outlined in personnel handbooks are construed as a contract between the employer and employee.

According to, some reasons for employment termination that are considered illegal in Colorado include the following:

  • Termination in violation of federal and state anti-discrimination laws
  • Termination as a form of sexual harassment
  • Termination in violation of an oral or written employment agreement
  • Termination in violation of labor laws, including collective bargaining laws
  • Termination in retaliation for the employee's having filed a complaint or claim against the employer

In Colorado, it is illegal to discriminate against or terminate employees based on race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, pregnancy, and age. It is also illegal for employers to consider these characteristics with regard to promotions, job assignments, and wages, and to terminate an employee for refusing to break a law, for taking leave under the Federal Family Medical Leave Act, and for not following the company's own policy or procedure for termination. For a comprehensive examination of employment law in the state of Colorado, go to


Some damages available to wrongfully discharged employees may include back pay, promotion, reinstatement, front pay, compensatory damages, required reasonable accommodations, injunctive relief, punitive damages, and reimbursement of attorneys' fees. Some states may require that the employer pay punitive, or punishing, damages to the employee because of an unlawful termination.


An employer is not required to give severance pay to a terminated employee unless an employment contract requires it, or the employer's policy manual provides for it. However, an employee may be able to negotiate some sort of severance pay in exchange for promising not to bring legal action against the employer for the termination. An employment attorney will be able to advise a terminated employee as to whether a severance package or a wrongful termination lawsuit is an option in his or her particular situation.


If you are fired, the following tips may help you to improve your position:

  • Contact an employee rights attorney licensed in Colorado
  • Become familiar with the terms of any employment contract that may have been in effect
  • Inquire about the reasons for the termination and about who made the decision
  • Request to view your personnel file
  • If your employer made any promises to you with regard to your employment, gather any documentation you may have relating to these promises
  • Request or negotiate a severance package
  • Don't allow your employer to intimidate you
  • Be sure to follow all customary post-employment procedures

If you are entitled to a severance package, negotiate with your employer, while keeping the following in mind:

  • Don't feel pressured to accept a severance package; take time to review an offer before you accept it
  • Get all terms of the severance package in writing
  • Try to get your former employer to allow you to remain on the company's group medical insurance plan while you receive severance pay
  • Make sure that the severance package is not contingent upon new employment
  • Refuse an employer's offer that you resign instead of being terminated; this tactic is often used by employers to avoid paying unemployment and severance pay

For a full explanation of wrongful termination laws, go to . Additional legal assistance can be gained by watching this Wrongful Termination of Employment video, which can be found on Free Legal Aid.