Getting fired is always emotional. Even if your boss has a valid reason for letting you go, it hurts. But when your boss terminates you because of an outright lie, the trauma increases. When you believe that someone in your company falsely accused you of something that gets you fired, the sense of injustice is acute. This is especially true if your employer did not even ask you for your side of the story. When someone lies about your honesty, your integrity, or your behavior, and that lie causes you to lose your job, the frustration and sense of betrayal can become all-consuming. It can even cause you to seek out an attorney and ask if there is anything you can legally do about it.
The answer to that question is maybe. It completely depends on the circumstances surrounding your termination. Every case is different and requires an experienced employment legal matters attorney to assess all the relevant facts. But today we will discuss some guidelines that can help give you a general idea of whether you have a case.
At-Will Employment and False Accusations
Nearly every state in the US is an at-will work state. When you are an at-will employee, this means that your boss can fire you for any reason or no reason at all. The law does not require an at-will employer to provide a valid reason for termination, nor does it require employers to investigate claims made against you on the job. This seems inherently unfair to most people, but it is the current state of the law. The only good news is that there are some exceptions to an employer’s carte blanche ability to fire employees.
If your boss fires you because of false allegations against you, that is not one of the exceptions to at-will employment. In other words, firing you over lies is not illegal. The lie may be outrageous and easily disproved, but firing you over it is not illegal. The person who told the lie may be such a notorious liar that your boss should not have believed them in the first place. But this still does not make your termination wrongful or illegal.
Much of this is counter-intuitive and offends people’s sense of fairness. However, there are valid exceptions to the rule that employers can fire at-will employees for any reason at all. And if you believe that the false accusation made against you was merely a pretext for an actual illegal firing, you may have a case.
Valid Exceptions to At-Will Employment
Exceptions to an employer’s ability to fire you for any reason or no reason at all fall into essentially one of three categories.
Employment Contracts: Express or Implied
Most employees do not work under a signed employment contract, but some do. A court may find that you have an express or implied employment contract if any of the following apply:
- You entered into your work arrangement through the use of an actual, written contract signed by you and your employer;
- Your employer made statements during the hiring process or shortly thereafter implying that you would be fired only under certain circumstances;
- Your employer gave you an employee handbook that established certain policies and procedures that they would follow before terminating you; or
- You belong to a labor union that has a collective bargaining agreement.
If you think that any of these conditions apply to you, contact an experienced employment legal matters lawyer to discuss the details of your case. All the above scenarios have exceptions and specific rules that may determine your ability to sue. Only a seasoned lawyer can sift through the facts and accurately assess whether you have a valid cause of action.
Discrimination and Harassment
Laws exist at both the state and federal level that prohibit discrimination or harassment in the workplace. These laws prohibit disparate treatment based on a worker’s race, nation of origin, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, age, and more. If your employer’s true reason for firing you is based on any of the above and the false accusation was merely a pretext to cover the discriminatory reason for termination—then you may have a valid wrongful termination case. However, you need evidence supporting your claim. An attorney can help assess whether you have enough evidence to build a case.
An employer is not allowed to fire you for asserting your rights in the workplace. By law, you have the right to, among other things,
- Have a safe workplace;
- Have a harassment-free work environment,
- Be free from discrimination at work;
- Report illegal activity at work;
- Participate in investigations regarding illegal activity at work;
- Claim workers’ compensation;
- Claim disability payments if you become disabled; and
- Be treated fairly with respect to wages and hours.
If you engage in any protected activity or take steps to protect your rights, your employer is not allowed to retaliate against you in any way, up to and including termination. So again, if the false accusation was a pretext to fire you for any of the reasons listed and you can prove it, you may have a case for wrongful termination.
What About Defamation?
Defamation is an untrue statement that damages your career or reputation. However, many statements made exclusively within the workplace (and not published to a third party) are privileged as communications made within the regular course of business. There are exceptions, but some false statements made during the course of business may be privileged and, therefore, not subject to a defamation claim.
This area of law is complex. So speak with your attorney to determine if false accusations at work fall under the umbrella of legal defamation. Also, keep in mind that if someone made the statement outside of your internal work environment, you may be able to sue the individual. But if the guilty party does not have large sums of cash lying around to pay a judgment, this may not be a viable option.
Call Our Wrongful Dismissal Lawyers
The legal team at the Smithey Law Group have built their careers on protecting your rights in the workplace. If you believe that you may have a case for wrongful dismissal, only a seasoned lawyer can accurately assess the facts of your case. So don’t hesitate. Call us at 410-919-2990 or contact us online today to schedule your initial consultation.