What Circumstances Allow a Fired Employee to Recover Compensation for Losses Incurred?
During our adult lives, we typically spend more than a quarter of our time at work. For many of us, it becomes a “home away from home,” both a source of income to provide for our families and a community to which we belong. When an employer summarily terminates employment, often without giving any reason, we can be left adrift, uncertain of our rights. Let’s look at some of the basic legal principles related to termination from a job.
The Concept of “At-Will” Employment
With the exception of Montana, every state in the country follows the legal principle of “at-will” employment. Under this legal standard, either party to an employment relationship (the employer or the employee) may legally discontinue the relationship at any time for any reason, provided doing so is not:
- Contrary to the terms of a valid and enforceable employment contract
- In violation of state or federal law
- Contrary to public policy
Firing an Employee in Violation of the Terms of an Employment Agreement
A termination may be improper (and be the basis for a wrongful discharge claim) whether it violates an express or an implied contract. An express contract, which may be written or oral, involves an intentional exchange of promises, where both parties expect to be bound by the terms. An implied contract, on the other hand, is one that was neither put in writing nor the subject of oral conversations intended to create a contractual relationship. Instead, it is implied from the statements, actions and conduct of the parties, including letters, emails, text messages, oral conversations and other communications. To be valid and enforceable, an implied contract must contain certain essential provisions:
- There must be an agreement that the employee will not be terminated, fired or discharged without good cause
- There may also be agreements about other terms of employment, including benefit, vacation and training
Common situations where an implied employment contract may be found include:
- Where the employee has worked for the company for a very long period of time
- Where the employee has consistently received favorable performance reviews
- Where the employer has made verbal statements to the worker that his/her job is secure
- Where the employer has consistently given the employee raises, bonuses and/or promotions
- Where the employer has a policy manual or handbook that specifically defines the situations where an employee may be subject to discipline or termination
- Where the employer has a policy manual or handbook that calls for progressive disciplinary action before an employee can be terminated
- Where the practice of the employer has consistently been to fire employees only for good cause
- Where the practice within the industry is for employers to enter into implied employment contracts with workers
Violation of Law or Public Policy
An employer cannot terminate an at-will employment for reasons that are contrary to state or federal worker protection laws. That includes actions that violate anti-discrimination statutes, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act.
An employer may be in violation of public policy for discharging a worker for engaging in actions that are either protected by the United States Constitution or by a state or federal statute. For example, it’s generally contrary to public policy to fire an employee for disclosing illegal or unethical conduct by an employer.
Contact the Proven Employment Lawyers at Bailey & Galyen
At the law office of Bailey & Galyen, we offer a free initial consultation to every client. To speak with a experienced employment law attorney, contact us by e-mail or 844-402-2992 at one of the convenient locations listed below. We will take your call 24 hours a day, seven days a week