If you have been fired for what you feel is an unjust reason, you may wonder if there is legal action you can take to help get your job back or to compensate you for the wages you lost while unemployed. Unfortunately, the answer for employees in Maryland is, “It depends.” There are certain federal and state laws that do protect employees from being fired for certain reasons. However, they may or may not apply in your case. So let’s go through some of those protections to help you determine whether or not you have a viable case.
Maryland, like many other states, is what is known as an “at-will” work state. This means that the employees work at the will of their employer. More clearly translated, an employer can hire or fire an employee for any reason or for no reason at all. It is completely up to the employer, and it doesn’t need to give a reason. The only exception to this is if your firing is deemed illegal because it contravenes state or federal law, or if you have a written, implied, or oral employment contract.
Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act forbids discrimination in the workplace. Title VII makes it illegal for an employer to fire an employee based on sex, race, color, national origin, or religion. Since then, other state and federal laws have been put into place that also make it illegal to fire employees based on the following factors:
- Age – The Age in Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA) protects anyone over the age of 40 from discrimination because of their age.
- Sexual Orientation – Case law has established that Title VII protect an employee from being fired because of their sexual orientation and/or sexual identity.
- Disability – Employers may not discriminate against job applicants or employees based on their mental or physical disability – this includes being married to someone with a disability. The Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act make any such firing illegal.
- Pregnancy – The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) was passed to prohibit an employer from firing a woman for becoming pregnant, for taking time off because of childbirth, or for taking time off due to a complication that develops from pregnancy or childbirth.
- Genetic Information – The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) states that employees may not be fired because of genetic test results. This includes genetic testing of the employee or a family member, according to Title II of the Act.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a huge economic downturn. This is just an economic fact and one that, sadly, has resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs. However, not all layoffs during the COVID crisis are valid. You may have a legal cause of action against your employer if you were fired in any of the following scenarios:
- You refused to report to work because it would constitute a violation of a stay-at-home order issued in your area.
- You have a serious medical condition and/or advanced age that makes you more vulnerable and more likely to die from COVID-19.
- You caught COVID-19 and filed for workers’ compensation benefits.
- You complained about unsafe working conditions (lack of personal protection equipment, social distancing, sanitation), and your firing was in retaliation.
- You refused to come to work because unsafe working conditions made you reasonably fearful of catching the virus.
- You took leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), or any other state or federally protected medical or family leave.
Aside from discrimination and COVID-19 related reasons, there are also other state and federally protected mandates that make it illegal for your employer to fire you if you fall into one of these categories.
Wage or Hour Issues – In 2020, the minimum wage in Maryland is $11 per hour and an employer must pay overtime (time and a half) to any employee who works more than 40 hours in a week. If an employer violates Maryland’s wage and hour laws and an employee files a claim or in any way exercises their rights under these laws, it is illegal for the employer to fire the employee in retaliation.
Jury Duty – An employee who is called to jury duty may take unpaid leave to perform this civil service for as long as their service is required. An employer may not demand that the employee take sick leave, personal leave, vacation time, or any other personal leave benefits when they serve on jury duty. It is illegal for an employer to fire an employee for refusing to do so.
Military Leave – Federal law mandates that any active-duty employee who is called into service may be deployed up to five years without losing their job and must be reinstated by their employer upon their return from service. Maryland’s Defense Force and state National Guard are included in this protection under Maryland law.
Retaliation – An employer may not fire an employee for exercising any of their employee rights. Some examples of these include:
- Reporting the employer to a government agency to report illegal activities
- Filing an EEOC discrimination or sexual harassment claim
- Testifying against an employer in discrimination, sexual harassment, or workplace safety case
- Filing for workers’ compensation
Finally, if you have an employment contract in place, you cannot be fired if the termination goes against any provision in your agreement.
Speak to An Experienced Employment Attorney
If you have been fired for any of the illegal reasons listed above, or have any questions regarding the legality of your termination, let one of the attorneys at the Smithey Law Group LLC put their experience to work for you. We can assess the facts of your case and help you make an informed decision on how to proceed. Call us or contact us online to schedule your consultation today!