Suddenly losing your job is not only shocking but deeply distressing. Further, a sudden loss of employment throws all your financial security out the window and you now have to focus on meeting your financial needs along with untangling the circumstances of your termination. In this guide, we will discuss what it means to be an “employee at-will,” what constitutes wrongful termination, and what to do immediately after you are suddenly, and wrongfully, terminated.
First, keep in mind that an overwhelming majority of Americans are considered “at-will” employees. At-will employment means that the employee does not have an employment agreement and the employer can fire the employee for any reason or no reason, and with or without notice. That all said, those reasons cannot be illegal or against public policy. As an employee, you still have significant protection under federal and state law from suffering wrongful discharge.
What Is Wrongful Termination?
Wrongful discharge, or wrongful termination, generally falls under one of three categories: breach of contract, discrimination, or violation of public policy.
Breach of Contract
Although you most likely do not have an employment agreement, it is always a good idea to check. If you have a written, or even an oral, agreement with your employer, that agreement should outline the conditions of terminating employment. If your employer terminated you for any reason other than those outlined in the agreement, it may constitute wrongful termination.
Termination of employment due to discrimination is illegal under both federal and state laws. Discrimination occurs when you employer terminates you based upon:
- National origin,
- Military or veteran status,
- Sexual orientation,
- Gender identity,
- Marital status, and
- Pregnancy status.
If you believe your employer terminated you for any of the above reasons, then you may have been wrongfully terminated. We also encourage you to review the most updated list with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Whistleblowing means that a person has reported improper or illegal conduct by their employer to a government agency. Whistleblowing usually results from employer activities involving:
- Criminal activity, or
- Unsafe conditions.
Importantly, whistleblowing also protects an employee who refuses to participate or “look the other way.” Equally important is you do not have to be right when whistleblowing to be protected (i.e., you can be wrong and still receive whistleblower protection).
If you refuse to work for your employer because of unsafe work conditions, your employer cannot terminate you. Generally, employees do not have to work if work conditions involve:
- Unsecure or dangerous equipment,
- Blocked exits,
- Unsafe stairs,
- Poor lighting, or
- Slippery or debris covered floors.
The above list is not complete, so consider discussing any questionable work conditions with experienced Baltimore wrongful termination lawyers.
Your employer cannot terminate you for fulfilling jury duty obligations or participating as a witness in a trial. If you are absent from work for these reasons, you cannot lose your job as a result.
Often an employer wrongfully discharges an employee in retaliation for a certain activity. For instance, if you were terminated because you reported sexual harassment or filed for workers’ compensation benefits, then your employer acted illegally.
What to Do If You Are Terminated
We cannot stress enough that in the immediate aftermath of being terminated you must remain calm. To that end, do not send off inflammatory emails, texts, or voicemails. Also, refrain from causing a workplace disturbance or complaining to colleagues. Try to remain respectful and polite with your employer. With a wrongful termination claim, you are in it for the long haul and you must try not to do anything that would hurt your case. Having said that, what are the practical steps you can take to prove a wrongful termination claim?
Get the Official Explanation
Obtain from your employer an official written explanation of your termination, including the specific incidents, the exact reasons, the people who made the decision, the names of any eyewitnesses, and evidence of any prior warnings.
Review Company Policy and Procedures
Review your employee handbook and other related HR material for the proper procedures for employment termination and see if your employer followed these procedures.
Get Your Employee File
Request a copy of your employee file and review it for any disciplinary actions or other management activities that indicate that your performance as an employee was substandard.
Create a Timeline of Events
Put together a timeline of events, so you can see if there is a progression of your employment status until it resulted in termination, or the opposite—there is no identifiable progression.
Preserve All Communications
To make your case for a wrongful termination claim you need evidence. A significant majority of that evidence comes in the form of written communications. Preserve all your emails, texts, voicemail, and paper correspondence concerning your employment and specifically surrounding the events of your termination. These documents are often the most compelling forms of evidence.
Access Government Options
Contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Maryland Department of Labor and consider filing a claim. By doing so, you force your former employer to respond and defend their actions. Importantly, be aware of any deadlines to file your claim and mark them in your calendar.
Consult a Baltimore Wrongful Termination Attorney
As discussed above, there are certain circumstances and specific reasons when it is wrongful to terminate an at-will employee. These protections arise under various state and federal laws. The Smithey Law Group LLC is made up of a team of experienced Baltimore wrongful termination attorneys. With decades of experience, our legal team can help you understand and navigate the many complex employment laws. We also handle sexual abuse and harassment cases. Don’t go it alone; contact us for a confidential consultation today.