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 most states, including Washington, are "at-will," meaning 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. According to FindLaw.com, some situations that may constitute unlawful termination 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
Federal law makes it illegal to terminate or discriminate against employees on the basis of 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.
In order to overcome the at-will presumption in the state of Washington, employees must show that their employers made clear and unambiguous statements about job security to them.
Some damages available to wrongfully terminated 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 type 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
- Become familiar with the terms of any employment contract that may have been in effect
- Ask about the reasons of the termination and who made the decision
- Request to view your personnel file
- If your employer made any promises to you regarding your employment, gather any documentation you may have regarding 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 to get the best deal possible:
- 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 on 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 Justia.com . Additional legal assistance can be gained by watching this Wrongful Termination of Employment video, which can be found on Free Legal Aid.