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What Is Wrong Termination?

Wrongful dismissal, also called wrongful termination or wrongful discharge, is a legal phrase, describing a situation in which an employee's contract of employment has been terminated by the employer if the termination breaches one or more terms of the contract of employment or a statutory provision in employment law.

If you have been laid off or fired recently, and believe that you may have lost your job for an unlawful reason, you may have a right to bring a claim for wrongful termination against your former employer.

Legal remedies that may be available to you include money damages and, if you haven't been officially released yet, negotiation for an appropriate severance package that includes adequate compensation. For an overview of key things to keep in mind after losing a job.

  • Discrimination: The employer cannot terminate employment because the employee is a certain race, nationality, religion, sex, age, or (in some jurisdictions) sexual orientation.
  • Retaliation: An employer cannot fire an employee because the employee filed a claim of discrimination or is participating in an investigation for discrimination. In the US, this "retaliation" is forbidden under civil rights law.
  • Employee's refusal to commit an illegal act: An employer is not permitted to fire an employee because the employee refuses to commit an act that is illegal.
  • An employer is not following own termination procedures: Often, the employee handbook or company policy outlines a procedure that must be followed before an employee is terminated. If the employer fires an employee without following this procedure, the employee may have a claim for wrongful termination.

In the United States, there is no single “wrongful termination” law. Rather there are several state and federal laws and court decisions that define this concept.

Employers typically designate their employees to be "employees at will." Even in these cases, however, it is usually deemed a "wrongful termination" to dismiss an employee on a legally prohibited basis. In the United States, wrongful dismissal has become the most common labor claim.

In California, if a termination was based on your membership in a group protected from discrimination by law, it would not be legal. An employer may not discriminate or terminate a person because of race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, disability, medical condition, pregnancy, or age, pursuant to the California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

A 2016 study found "robust evidence that one wrongful-discharge doctrine, the implied-contract exception, reduced state employment rates by 0.8% to 1.7%.

The initial impact is largest for female and less-educated workers (those who change jobs frequently), while the longer-term effect is greater for older and more educated workers. By contrast, we find no robust employment or wage effects of two other widely recognized wrongful-discharge laws: the public-policy and good-faith exceptions."

By contrast, we find no robust employment or wage effects of two other widely recognized wrongful-discharge laws: the public-policy and good-faith exceptions.


What Makes a Termination "Wrongful"?

The term "wrongful termination" means that an employer has fired or laid off an employee for illegal reasons in the eyes of the law. Illegal reasons for termination include:


1.Firing in violation of federal and state anti-discrimination laws.

2.Firing as a form of sexual harassments.

3.Firing in violation of oral and written employment agreements.

4.Firing in violation of labor laws, including collective bargaining laws.

5.Firing in retaliation for the employee's having filed a complaint or claim against the employer.


Tips that Can Help after Being Fired

The following steps may help you improve your position if you have been fired.

1. Don't act on any negative instincts against your employer.
2. Contact an employees' rights lawyer for advice and representation.
3. If you have an employment contract, become familiar with the provisions of the agreement.
4. Inquire about the reasons for your termination.
5. Find out who decided to fire you.
6. Request to view your personnel file.
7. Review promises made by your employer and gather evidence of those promises.
8. Request and negotiate a severance package.
9. Confirm all agreements regarding your termination and severance in writing.
10. Do not allow yourself to be intimidated.
11. Return all company property and follow any other common post-employment procedures.