Wrongful termination, by law, is when an employer fires an employee for reasons considered unjust by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The EEOC is a government agency that oversees illegal terminations and federal discrimination laws in the U.S. The role of this agency is to interpret and enforce the policies set forth by the U.S. government to prevent and identify unlawful termination in the workforce.
Many times, the EEOC must determine if an employee was or was not wrongfully terminated based on the specific circumstances surrounding the case. Through a strict and time consuming process, the EEOC accepts claims from employees and must decide if it is in fact a case of wrongful termination, or if the employer was right in terminating the employee.
The sections below explain the three main conditions of wrongful discharge deemed illegal under the standards upheld by the EEOC. Legal reasons to fire an employee are also covered here, so that you are informed on both illegal and legal forms of employment termination. Remember, as most states have at-will employment, employers have the right to fire any employee at any time for any reason, or for no reason, as long as they do not violate termination laws.
Termination is considered unjust when an employer fires an employee based on prejudice of the employee’s age, race, sex or other quality. Termination of employment based on derogatory judgements of an individual is considered discrimination, which is illegal under federal law. The following is a list of most major discriminatory factors that qualify as a wrongful reason for termination:
Essentially, termination of employment cannot be based on any physical trait or personality characteristic that an individual identifies with, whether that categorization is expressed or assumed. Discrimination like the ones listed above are believed to be hurtful and unjust according to EEOC policies, and you should learn how to file a discrimination charge if any of the above reasons were part of your termination.
It is considered illegal to fire someone who informs the authorities about illegal activity within a business or organization. This is known as whistleblowing. Employees who report a coworker or employer for unlawful or illicit activity are protected by at least 20 whistleblower statutes. These wrongful termination laws are enforced by the Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under the U.S. Department of Labor. OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program protects the employment of workers who report violations of workplace health and safety policies. The rights of these individuals are protected across a variety of legislature from airline safety to health insurance. The following is a list of most types of reporting whistleblowers are protected for:
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If any of these types of reports are made by an employee (the whistleblower) whose testimony against the company is among the reasons for termination, the employer is in violation of federal whistleblower laws.
It is not legal to terminate an employee for taking allowances such as medical or military leave from work. Laws prohibit termination of employment for basic legal rights of workers in the U.S. These laws require employers to allow workers to take time off from work for things such as maternity leave, disability leave and other allowances. Other rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) include allowing mothers the time off to nurse or pump milk if they request it. It is considered wrongful termination in the U.S. if an employer fires an employee for something that is considered a basic legal right under these specialized laws. In fact, under FMLA, new parents, whether foster, adoptive or biological, may be eligible for unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks off work. Of course, there are eligibility requirements in these circumstances, such as the number of employees within the company and the length of time the employee has worked for the company. However, when these conditions are met and the employee is still terminated for taking legal time off, he or she is entitled to file a charge against the employer for wrongful termination.
Along with the unlawful reasons an employer may terminate an employee, there are legal reasons to fire an employee. Most commonly, these reasons are due to job performance issues, or when workplace policies are not followed by employees. Examples of instances when an employer has legal backing for terminating an employee include:
Any reason that lies outside the realm of the three categories of wrongful termination listed above are usually considered legal unless otherwise stated by the EEOC.
While there are federal laws that govern unlawful termination of employees, state laws sometimes over shadow federal regulations. Check with your state’s labor office to determine the exact wrongful termination laws that your employer is held to at the state level. Although wrongful termination laws are not always uniform and cases of discrimination are hard to prove indefinitely, state and federal agencies such as the EEOC are in place to assist employers and employees, alike. When it comes to determining the difference between legal and illegal termination, these agencies are your best way to receive the legal help you need.
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