When an employee is terminated from their job unfairly or unlawfully, it falls under the umbrella of wrongful termination. This is a significant issue that can have substantial legal implications for both employers and employees. Understanding what wrongful termination is will help you determine if you have a legal claim against the company you work for.

What Constitutes Wrongful Termination?

Employment in the United States is generally “at-will,” meaning employers can terminate employees for any reason or no reason at all. There are exceptions to this rule, however.

Common types of wrongful termination include:

  • Discrimination: Terminating an employee based on protected characteristics like race, gender, age, religion, disability, or national origin constitutes discrimination. Employers cannot make employment decisions based on these factors, and doing so could clearly violate anti-discrimination laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • Retaliation: Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees for engaging in protected activities like filing complaints about discrimination or harassment, reporting illegal activities within the company, or participating in investigations or legal proceedings. If an employee is terminated in retaliation for exercising their legal rights, it might constitute wrongful termination.
  • Breach of contract: When an employment contract exists between an employer and an employee, terminating the employee in violation of the contract’s outlined terms could be illegal. Examples include firing an employee before the contract expires, dismissing them without following its outlined procedures, or terminating them for reasons explicitly prohibited in the agreement.

What Are the Implications of Wrongful Termination?

Wrongful termination can have profound financial and reputational consequences for employers. If an employer is found guilty of wrongful termination, it may be required to compensate the terminated employee for lost wages, benefits, emotional distress, and other damages. The employer could also face fines, penalties, and legal fees associated with defending against the wrongful termination claim.

Wrongful termination lawsuits can damage an employer’s reputation, leading to negative publicity, loss of business, and difficulty attracting and retaining top talent. Employers guilty of wrongful termination may also be subject to injunctions or court orders mandating changes to their employment practices to prevent future violations.

Employers should have clear, well-documented employment policies and procedures in place to minimize the risk of wrongful termination claims. Supervisors should also receive regular training on anti-discrimination laws, retaliation, and proper termination procedures.

How Can Employees Protect Themselves From Wrongful Termination?

Employees can take several steps to protect themselves from wrongful termination and defend their rights in the event of unfair treatment.

  • Familiarize yourself with your rights under federal, state, and local employment laws, including anti-discrimination statutes, whistleblower protections, and relevant contract laws.
  • Document any discriminatory treatment, harassment, retaliation, or other forms of misconduct in the workplace. Keeping detailed records of emails, memos, performance evaluations, and witness statements can provide key evidence in the event of a wrongful termination claim.

If you believe you were wrongfully terminated, consult an experienced employment lawyer. They can assess the merits of your case and guide the best course of action. An employment lawyer can help you understand your legal rights, negotiate with your employer, and, if necessary, represent you in court.

A South Jersey Employment Lawyer at Burnham Douglass Can Offer a Free Consultation

Wrongful termination can take many forms and can negatively impact employers and employees. If you are facing a wrongful termination issue, contact Burnham Douglass for experienced legal representation. Call our South Jersey employment lawyers at 856-751-5505 or complete our online form for a free consultation. Located in Marlton and Northfield, New Jersey, we serve clients in South Jersey, including Evesham Township, Cherry Hill, Camden County, Burlington County, and Atlantic City.