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How to Know If You Were Wrongfully Terminated

39658121Were you Wrongfully Terminated?

Job termination is a fact of life. Employees are let go all the time and in many cases, the reasons for termination are justified.

A company might cut back and implement layoffs or a specific employee might fail to meet his or her obligations regarding the job. In some cases, it’s a mutual decision and employees and employers determine the relationship is not a good fit for either party.

In these instances, the employer’s decision to terminate the employee is legal and there’s little an employee can do aside from filing for unemployment benefits and moving onto another job.

There are also cases when termination is not justified and might not be legal.

If you’re let go from your job, how do you know your termination was wrongful or illegal?

Here’s what you need to know:

What At-Will Employment Means

New York is an "at will" employment state. In general, this means an employer may be able to fire a non-contractual employee without due cause and an employee is able to resign from a position at any time without fear of legal consequences.

At-will employment has limits, though. If a non-contractual employee is terminated for a reason that violates anti-discrimination laws or in retaliation for a legal act, it is illegal.

What are Anti-Discrimination Laws?

Anti-discrimination laws are in place to prevent employees from being terminated based on their membership in a protected class. Protected classes include gender, race, religion, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration status, and pregnancy.

Anti-discrimination laws are federal laws, but there are additional laws in place in New York State and New York City that further protect employees from wrongful termination.

What Protections are Available for Whistleblowers?

In addition to being a member in a protected class, it’s also illegal to terminate an employee for whistleblowing.

Whistleblowing occurs when a person reports wrongdoing within a company for a variety of reasons. Whistleblowing retaliation is not always illegal, but it is in certain instances. If you know of something illegal or unethical occurring at your place of employment and you speak out against it or report it to the authorities, your employer may be barred from terminating you for your actions.

Protection may also available for employees who refuse to perform illegal acts while on the job. If your employer requests you do something illegal or you are encouraged to disregard safety regulations or do something that puts someone in harm’s way, it’s possible that you cannot be terminated for your refusal.

This protection applies to both safety issues and violations of wage and hour laws. For instance, if you were to refuse to work a double shift because it violates a law and you are fired, you may have a right to pursue a claim against your employer.

Right to Time Off

Job protection is also in place for employees who need to take time away from their work for specific reasons. While it is possible to be legally terminated if you miss too much time from work, you cannot be let go if your time away is protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act, because of military service obligations or under certain other laws protecting employee leaves. Employees are also protected if they need time away from their work to vote or to serve on a jury.

The time permitted for these activities is not unlimited, so if you need to take time off for a reason related to one of these protected activities, you should speak to your employer.

To learn more about federal FMLA, check out this information from the US Department of Labor.

Can You Be Terminated Legally?

Despite the laws protecting employees from wrongful termination, it is possible to be let go from a job for legal reasons. But even when a termination is legal it is important for an employer to follow proper procedure. They need to abide by any written disciplinary procedures to which they’ve committed and if they fail to do so, the employee could question whether or not their termination was lawful.

For instance, if an employer has in its employee handbook that employees are entitled to one written warning about tardiness but an employee is terminated after reporting to work late just one time, he or she might have a valid claim for wrongful termination if the motivation for that termination is illegal.

What Should I Do If I Believe I’ve Been Wrongfully Terminated?

In most cases, you’ll first need to file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). There might also be state or local requirements regarding filing a complaint.

Meeting with an employment attorney is a good place to begin if you have a reason to believe you were wrongfully terminated. He or she can answer your questions and guide you toward the right procedures for filing a claim and pursuing legal action if necessary.

For more information or to learn more about wrongful termination, contact Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C.

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