Work is a necessary part of life. It consumes a significant portion of our time every week. You depend on a job to keep a roof over your head and food on the table. Those that take care of a family have additional responsibilities and pressure to maintain a successful career.
So, what happens when you are fired for no reason? Do you have a case for wrongful termination?
Wrongful termination (also referred to as “wrongful term,”) is a legal term for a situation in which the employer has ended an employee’s contract of employment, and the termination breaches one or more terms of the agreement or a statute provision or rule in employment law.
Most employment in the United States is defined as “at-will.” Indiana is an at-will state. This generally means that an employee may be fired at any time and for any reason. However, there are exceptions to the “at-will” rule. It is illegal for your employer to fire you under any of those exceptions.
If you believe you’ve been wrongfully terminated by your employer, you should speak to an experienced attorney who can evaluate the situation and determine whether you have a case. To help you in your decision to contact a lawyer, we’ve put together some information on wrongful termination.
The Promises of Employment
The United States labor market is massive. In 2018, there were close to 156 million jobs in the country. Though the exact number of wrongful termination cases in the United States is not clear, it’s likely that hundreds of thousands of employees are wrongfully and illegally fired each year.
Many people in the United States follow a traditional route to employment. They apply for a job, interview, and receive a job offer. The job offer may include a written contract or an implied promise. The type of promise that is offered by your employer (if any) can go a long way toward proving a case of wrongful termination.
Written vs. Implied Promises
Written promises are part of a contract or statement that guarantees your job security. If you receive a written promise from an employer, you have a much stronger case that you are not considered an “at-will” employee, which means you cannot be fired without good cause or for reasons stated in the job agreement.
Employees that receive a written promise generally have an offer letter or document that makes promises about their continued employment. Meanwhile, other employees receive what is considered an implied promise.
Implied promises are not recorded; they are part of the word-of-mouth guarantee your employer gave you when they made an offer. Implied promises are another exception to the “at-will” rule for wrongful termination lawsuits. However, it is more challenging to prove these cases because many employers make a point not to give any implied promises about continued employment.
Regardless, there are cases in which employers were discovered to have promised “permanent employment” or a job for a specific amount of time. Also important, employers usually set forth definitive forms of progressive discipline in an employee manual as a means to receive disciplinary action yet not lose a job because of worker-employer violations.
Factors in Wrongful Term Cases
There are several things the courts look at when they examine wrongful termination cases. First, if a written promise was part of the employment agreement, the courts will review it carefully. Secondly, they will study whether an implied employment contract existed.
The courts will consider the following details of your case:
- Duration of employment
- The regularity of job promotions
- History of positive performance reviews
- Assurances that you would have continuing employment
- Any violations of usual employment practice in the firing
- Any promises of long-term employment offered at the time of employment
If you suspect you’ve been wrongfully terminated, don’t wait to take legal action. Speaking to an attorney at Stewart & Stewart today allows us to begin reviewing the details of your situation as soon as possible. We’ll carefully examine the details of your job contract, including any written or implied promises that may strengthen your case.
Breaches of Good Faith and Fair Dealing
The most common defense against wrongful termination is a breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing by the employer. If you suspect an employer acted unfairly, the actions may fall under the terms of a breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing.
The following examples illustrate a breach of good faith and fair dealing:
- Firing or transferring employees to prevent them from collecting sales commissions.
- Misleading employees about their chances for wage increases or promotions.
- Fabricating reasons for terminating an employee to replace them with someone who earns less.
- Repeatedly transferring an employee to remote, dangerous, or undesirable assignments to coerce the employee into quitting.
Though all of the above are solid examples of a breach of good faith and fair dealing, not every court recognizes this as an exception to “at-will” employment. Some states require that a valid employment contract exists at the time of firing to consider the case.
Violations of Public Policy
It is illegal for an employer to violate public policy when firing a worker. Certain reasons are illegitimate grounds for firing an employee. For example, many state and federal laws have specified employment-related actions that violate public policy like:
- Taking time off work to vote.
- Needing time off to work to serve on a jury.
- Serving in the military or National Guard.
- Seeking worker’s compensation.
- Disclosing a company practice of refusing to pay employees their earned commissions or accrued vacation pay.
- Notifying authorities about activities that designate you as a “whistle-blower.”
The following are violations of public policy with regards to wrongful termination:
- Discrimination based on factors like age, race, disability
Coronavirus and Wrongful Termination
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold and businesses are forced to close or temporarily shut down, we fully expect to see an increase in wrongful termination cases. It’s important to note that the same standards apply here, along with a number of additional federal protections for employees like the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
For example, you cannot be fired for having coronavirus or another serious health condition, being suspected of having COVID-19, or taking paid sick leave to look after a family member who has fallen ill. If you are fired for these reasons or any other reason stemming from discrimination or violations of federal laws, you may be able to file a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Contact Stewart & Stewart for Representation
Have you been terminated recently because of the COVID-19 pandemic? Do you suspect wrongful termination based on a breach of good faith and fair dealing, or public policy? If so, contact Stewart & Stewart at 1 (800) 33-33-LAW or fill out our online contact form. We are available to discuss the details of your case during a free initial consultation.