Wrongful Termination Attorneys

WHAT IS WRONGFUL TERMINATION?

Although you can be fired for no reason, your employment cannot be terminated unlawfully. From a legal perspective, wrongful termination refers to a situation in which an employer violates the terms of an employment contract, public policy, or a specific law. Numerous circumstances can form the basis for a wrongful termination suit. The best way to explore your legal rights is to talk to an experienced employment lawyer.

You may have a wrongful termination case if you believe you were fired because of:

Discrimination

It is illegal to terminate someone simply because of some protected characteristic. It violates state and federal anti-discrimination laws such as the Minnesota Human Rights Act and Title VII of the Americans with Disabilities Act. These laws prohibit employment discrimination based on:

Retaliation

Employers cannot legally fire an employee for asserting their legal rights. U.S. laws prohibit retaliation, such as those focused on wage and hour, health and safety, child labor, and workers’ compensation. State and federal agencies enforce employment laws meant to protect employees from intimidation, retaliation, and termination. Some legally protected activities encompass:

        • Pursuing sick or medical leave rights (FMLA)
        • Refusing to obey a directive that is reasonably believed to be illegal (an employee must only have a “good faith” belief that something is illegal when speaking out)
        • Taking time off for serving on a jury or voting
        • Filing a workers’ compensation claim
        • Requesting reasonable accommodation for religious practice or disability
        • Military Service

Whistleblowing

A whistleblower is a person who exposes illegal or unethical wrongdoing within an organization. It may be reported internally to managers or externally to authorities or the media. Laws protect employees and provide legal recourse. Some protected whistleblowing activities include:

        • Raising concerns about wage and hour violations (i.e., child labor, minimum wage, or overtime)
        • Revealing health, environmental, or safety hazards
        • Reporting harassment or discriminations
        • Reporting illegal activity internally or to the authorities (whistleblowing)
        • Reporting fraud against the government (i.e. healthcare fraud)

Covid-19 Related Actions

Although employers in the United States have a right to terminate or lay off employees for any reason, they still cannot discriminate against individuals or retaliate against them in certain circumstances. For example, if you are an eligible employee and your health condition requires you to perform work from home, work less hours, or work with other restrictions, you may have a right to request a reasonable accommodation.

Check out some of our blogs related to Covid 19:

What is Constructive Discharge?

When an employee can no longer stay in their position and is forced to resign because work conditions have become so unbearable that no reasonable employee would stay, it is a constructive discharge. It differs from a routine resignation or firing as the employment ends not because a person wants it to, but due to intolerable working conditions. These conditions could include mistreatment, harassment, or a demotion or a change in pay. A long-term administrative leave may be a constructive discharge in certain circumstances. A constructive discharge often occurs as retaliation against whistleblowers.

How Can I Prove Wrongful Termination?

If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated, the burden of proof lies on you. The first step is to pull all of your employment documents together, such as:

    • Employee handbook
    • Job reviews/evaluations
    • Pay stubs
    • Personnel files
    • Job-related memos
    • Workplace policies
    • Termination notice or memo of the conversation

Make sure you are not taking any documents you wouldn’t be entitled to, like proprietary or privileged documents. The best way to navigate what useful documents you are okay to take is to speak with an employment attorney.

Next, you’ll need to document the details of your termination. Write down the events in the order they happened. This could go back months before your release. Make sure you address performance evaluations, particularly if they were positive, as this could be a sign of wrongful termination.

Note who was involved, either directly or indirectly, with the termination process. This could include your manager and their manager, human resources, colleagues, clients, etc. Write down not only their names and positions but also their role in the process.

Document how your termination transpired, who was present, and the reasons given. Take note of every detail you can remember, as they could be important down the road. Several elements are helpful in proving unlawful termination:

    • Demonstrate that your employer knew about your protected status, either your activities or as a person protected by Title VII.
    • The timeframe between the time the employer learned of your activity and the time of your termination.
    • Any verbal harassment or criticism you experienced from your employer.
    • Establish that your employer singled you out as a result of your protected activity or class.

The amount you can recover for your wrongful termination case depends on the damages you have suffered, your case’s strength, your tolerance for risk, and the size of your employer. You may be entitled to back pay and front pay as well as receive punitive damages, compensation for emotional distress, and costs related to attorney and court fees.

What are Exceptions to “At-Will” Employment?

Not all employees are covered the same way by employment laws. These exceptions include:

Employment Contracts

Employers must abide by requirements set forth in an employee’s employment contract that address, among other things, duration of the engagement, conditions permitting early termination and mandatory severance payments following termination.

Implied Contracts

Employers cannot legally fire an employee when there is an implied contract between them, in some cases arising from assurances given a prospective employee before receiving an offer. To determine your rights, it is essential to review all written materials received from the employer, including your offer letter or employee handbook. In rare instances, Minnesota courts have gone so far as to find a legally enforceable promise of lifetime employment based on pre-employment promises. Equity also may in certain circumstances require imposition of contract-like rights, based on inducements made by an employer or its agent in the recruiting process.

Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing

Not as cut and dried as employment contracts, this narrow exception applies to situations in which an employer terminates an employee specifically to prevent the vesting of some valuable right or benefit, such as a bonus or commission.

Public Policy

Employers are prohibited from terminations that violate public policy. Minnesota, similar to most states that recognize this exception, limits its application to reprisals against employees who refuse to follow an employer’s instruction to perform an unlawful act.

Rights Under Federal Labor Law

Employees in a union shop with rights under a collective bargaining agreement typically may be terminated only for “just cause,” enforceable through the contract’s grievance procedures. Under the National Labor Relations Act, employees in even non-unionized workplaces may not be terminated for engaging in “concerted activities,” meaning joining with other workers to protest an unfair term or condition of employment.

Owners of Small and Closely Held Companies

Communications preceding formation of small, often family-owned business ventures may support the judicial finding of a “reasonable expectation of continued employment,” under which founding members may only be terminated from paid positions for just cause. These inherently fact-sensitive inquiries take into account the passive versus active nature of an owner’s participation, the degree to which the owner’s interest is based on “sweat equity,” and the parties’ written communications and agreements. The right can be defeated by disclaimer language in a member control agreement, articles of incorporation or bylaws, so it is important that business owners who feel they were unfairly terminated consult such documents.

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Wrongful Termination Law Firm in Minneapolis

At Halunen Law we have been dealing with wrongful termination cases and other difficult employment matters for decades. During a free, confidential consultation, we can help you figure out whether you have grounds to pursue legal action against your employer. Contact us today at 612-605-4098 to learn more.

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