About Legal and Illegal Terminations

Termination of employment in the United States falls under two categories: legal and illegal termination.

This means that there are justifiable reasons for termination of employment, but there is also wrongful termination of employment.

When someone is terminated from a job, he or she has rights.

For example, employees who feel they have been a victim of an illegal termination have the right to file a discrimination complaint against their employer.

Consequently, employers have rights as well.

At will employment, which is regulated at the state level, declares all employment positions to be indefinite and voluntary for both the hired and the hirer.

Thus, as any employee may quit their position at any time, an employer may also terminate an employee without advance notice, as long as the reason for termination is not unlawful according to the federal discrimination law.

In other words, an employer must establish just cause for terminating an employee.

If an employee feels that the employer cannot establish just cause for termination, he or she may wish to file a complaint to document the discrimination.

If you are an employee who feels to have been a victim of discrimination either through a termination or another form of workplace discrimination, there are protections in place to defend you.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency that acts as the nation’s employment discrimination watchdog to interpret and enforce laws and policies that prohibit discrimination by employers.

By filing a discrimination claim against your employer via the EEOC, you can report discrimination in the workplace, file a lawsuit against your employer and may even receive punitive damages for your case.

What is wrongful termination?

You may be wondering, “What is wrongful termination?” if you have recently been fired from a position. Below is a summary of reasons for termination that are unlawful.

These reasons would constitute a wrongfully fired employee filing a complaint against his or her employer, thanks in part to the federal discrimination law. The reasons are as follows:

  • Termination of employment for discriminatory reasons such as firing someone for their age, sex/gender, race, disability or religion.
  • Termination of employment for whistleblowers who have reported illegal activity or unsafe working conditions.
  • Termination of employment for exercising basic legal rights such as maternity leave, military leave or medical leave.

Conversely, since there is wrongful termination, there is also legal reason to fire an employee. While wrongful discharge policies vary from state to state, in general, valid reasons for termination involve situations in which job performance is affected, such as excessive tardiness or absence from the job.

However, even seemingly lawful termination cases are sometimes seen in court. At minimum, you may qualify for unemployment insurance compensation and a healthcare benefits extension.

If you believe you may be the victim of an illegal termination, further investigate the parameters of your state’s wrongful termination laws via the State Labor Office.

Learn About At-Will Employment and Exceptions

Just as discriminatory laws prevent employers from firing employees for reasons that are unfair, each state’s employment laws protect employers from workers who are not a fit for the position they are in.

At will employment states often extend the right to employers to terminate employees for any reason at all.

However, when discretion is left to the employer, oftentimes a terminated employee can argue that he or she was in fact wrongfully terminated.

Related Article: At-Will Employment and Exceptions

All 50 states have some form of at-will employment policy in place, some limiting it to a preliminary trial period of the employment relationship.

Most states have adopted the at will doctrine that grants employers the right to end employment at any time, just as employed individuals have the right to quit a job at any time, though be it with or without cause. At will applies as long as the reason for termination does not fall under the umbrella of discrimination, whistle blower or basic human rights, as noted above.

Still, every state has unique policies, and the at will doctrine is often modified to prevent employers from taking advantage of an employee’s at will status. Some states have adopted these three at will exceptions to make policies more reasonable for employees:

  • Public policy
  • Implied contracts
  • Covenant of good faith and fair dealing

How to File a Discrimination Charge

If you believe you are the victim of discrimination by your employer, you should file an EEOC complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The EEOC is a government agency that enforces federal anti-employment discrimination laws in the U.S. In most states, you will need to file an EEOC claim before you can file a lawsuit.

Furthermore, factors regarding the legalities of your state’s policies can make the process difficult. For example, a statute of limitation may affect your discrimination charges.

Make sure you are within the permitted timeframe of your termination to file a claim.

Note that an EEOC complaint form must be filed within 180 calendar days after the date of discrimination. Still, state policies can also affect discrimination claim time limits.

EEOC complaints can be filed in a variety of ways including online, by phone or in person at one of 53 EEOC field offices across the country.

Note that if you are a federal employee with a claim, you must follow a different process and you must file a claim within 45 days.

Within 10 days from the date you file, you will receive a claim confirmation notice. You may be asked to participate in a discrimination complaint mediation with your employer.

An investigation on your complaint may or may not take place. You may request a notice of right to sue. Lawsuits are only allowed if the EEOC deems your case valid and the EEOC may in fact file a lawsuit on your behalf.

If you win in court, you may be entitled to compensatory and punitive damages depending on the size of your employer’s company.

If your state has an employment discrimination department, you should file a complaint with that office as well.

Related Article: Requirements for Unemployment Benefits

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