Getting fired from a job, especially if it comes as a surprise, can be difficult for employees. But if the employee does not feel there were grounds for termination, they should consider if they were wrongfully terminated.
What Makes a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit?
A wrongful termination claim is when an employee believes they were illegally terminated from their job. This can happen if the employee feels their former employer violated employment contracts, labor laws (including whistle-blower laws), or federal or state anti-discrimination laws. An employee could also potentially have a wrongful termination lawsuit if they feel they were fired after filing a worker's comp claim or another complaint, such as sexual harassment or discrimination.
What Can an Employee Do if They Believe They’ve Been Terminated Unlawfully?
If an employee believes they’ve been terminated unlawfully, there are a few steps they should take as soon as possible.
- Gather Documents — employees need to gather several key documents to help support their claim, including their personnel file, contract (if they signed one), their employer’s handbook, pay stubs, and termination notice (whether it was in writing or it was verbal), and notes from the conversation. If an employee was terminated during an oral conversation, having this documentation written down in a memo as soon as possible could be key to proving their case.
- Writing Down What Led to the Termination — even if the employee doesn’t feel every little detail is important, it could make a difference for their case. Employees should document a timeline of what led up to the termination, who was directly involved in all conversations about the termination, any previous performance evaluations (having positive performance reviews and then being terminated could be beneficial in a wrongful termination case), and how the actual termination took place.
- Determine If They Were an At-Will Employee — many employers hire employees at-will, meaning that either party may terminate the employment relationship at any time and for no reason. Georgia, for example, is an at-will state. Only certain professions are not considered at-will employees including members of a union, public employees who fall under civil service regulations, or if it’s specifically written in a contract.
- Determine If Any Laws Were Broken — There are laws to protect employees from being fired and an employer could face a wrongful termination lawsuit if they broke these laws. Some things an employee will want to consider is if there was any discrimination based upon the employee’s age, gender, race, or sexual orientation, if there was a breach of contract, or if the termination was because of whistleblowing (this is when an employee reports illegal or unethical conduct by the employer to the proper authorities).
What Can an Employee Do if They Believe They’re About to be Terminated?
If an employee feels they may be terminated in the near future, they should begin gathering evidence listed in the above steps. There are also a few other key factors to keep in mind.
- Are there written promises? — Even if it isn’t a legal document, does the employee have emails, text messages, paper notes, or other documents promising job security? Having this documentation could help prove an employee’s case.
- Employer actions — The employee needs to consider how their employer has been acting and what it could mean if they were terminated. Would the employee potentially be getting let go so the employer could prevent them from collecting a commission? Has the employer talked about giving the employee promotions or increased wages but failed to uphold those actions? Has the employer been giving the employee different assignments or transferring work in hopes the employee would quit on their own?
- Defamation — Has the employee noted that their employer has made malicious and false statements about them? If the employee believes this is the case, they should make documentation of the defamation as quickly as possible.
No employee should be fired without a valid and lawful reason. At HDR Law our attorneys are equipped with the knowledge needed to fight wrongful termination lawsuits and help employees move forward with their careers. See how our attorneys can help you today — (720) 547-9211.