Losing your job can be a very emotional experience, often causing anger, frustration and anxiety about your future. If you have been fired from your job, how do you know if the termination was legal or illegal? Do you know what it means to be “wrongfully discharged” form employment? Do you know that there are many things employers can do to inadvertently expose themselves to a wrongful discharge suit? The information below will help guide you through the basics of a potential wrongful discharge case you may have.
If you believe you have been wrongfully or constructively discharged from your employment, please contact us today for a FREE consultation.
What is Wrongful Discharge?
A wrongful discharge, also called a wrongful termination or wrongful dismissal, is a situation in which an employee’s contract of employment has been terminated by the employer, where the termination breaches one or more terms of the contract of employment, or a statute provision or rule in employment law.
It is unlawful if your employer engages in discrimination based on a protected characteristic such as your age, gender, sex, national origin, ethnicity, religion, disability, pregnancy or military status. It is also unlawful where your employer is motivated to terminate your employment because you filed for workers’ compensation or for a reason that violates a substantial public policy.
Some examples of wrongful discharge include:
- Being fired for reasons of race, age, gender, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, pregnancy, or military status, or other protected categories;
- Retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim, or making a safety complaint;
- Wage and hour disputes over unpaid overtime;
- Being fired in breach of a written and signed employee contract;
- Being fired for a reason that would violate a substantial public policy, such as cooperating with authorities in an investigation, or refusing to perform an illegal act.
“At-Will Employment” and Its Limits
West Virginia is an “at-will state”, which means that you can be fired at virtually any time for any reason or no reason at all. However, there are limits. Most notably, any termination that is done for a discriminatory purpose, or which is done in retaliation, is illegal. An employer may also be liable for wrongful discharge if it violates the terms of an employment contract which specifically sets out the term of employment.
What is Constructive Discharge?
If an employer makes working conditions so intolerable that an employee has no choice but to quit, it is called “constructive discharge” and may also be unlawful. For example, if you would have a legal claim for wrongful discharge if you were fired, your employer may try to avoid the legal claim by causing you to quit instead. If your employer makes your work environment so intolerable because of harassment or discrimination, or materially alters the terms and conditions of your employment, such that any reasonable person would quit, you may have a claim for “constructive discharge.” As always, it is best to consult with an attorney experienced in these matters to determine if your rights have been violated.
Being terminated or forced to quit your job due to a hostile working environment can be a stressful and emotion time, with many complex legal issues to be addressed. Consulting with an experienced attorney about your legal rights can help navigate you through this difficult time and help get the justice you deserve!