Wrongful Termination Schenectady
In Schenectady, “employment-at-will” laws mean that employers can terminate the employee at any time for any reason. Likewise, an employee may decide to quit for any reason – or for no reason at all – without warning. These laws mean that, in most cases, you do not have legal recourse if you have been discharged from your job, even if there didn’t seem to be any basis for the termination.
In certain cases, however, employment termination is an actionable offense. These scenarios include:
- You were terminated because of illegal discrimination
- Your termination was a form of employer retaliation
- You were discharged in an attempt to prevent you from collecting or obtaining deserved benefits
There are several other situations that could constitute wrongful termination. If you have reason to believe that you were discharged for an illegal reason or on the basis of discriminatory action on the part of your employer, it is crucial that you seek experienced counsel from one of our employment lawyers who is thoroughly familiar with this field of law. You could be entitled to monetary benefits.
Our wrongful terminations attorneys have represented numerous victims of wrongful termination and are prepared to put this experience to work for you. Get help from a firm that is solely dedicated to protecting the rights of workers, unlike other firms in the area.
Call 855-596-4657 today to set up an initial case consultation at the firm’s Schenectady location.
What Is a Wrongful Termination?
A wrongful termination is any firing that is illegal. A firing is illegal when it:
- Violates a federal, state, or local law, or
- Violates an employment contract.
Just because a termination is unfair doesn’t make it illegal. For example, it might be unfair for your boss to fire you so he can hire his inexperienced niece or nephew. However, because there’s no law against nepotism, you wouldn’t have a wrongful termination claim.
Violation of Federal, State, or Local Laws
The default rule in the United States is “at-will employment.” This means employers can fire employees at any time, for any reason. However, there is one important exception to this rule. Employers cannot fire at-will employees for illegal reasons. Federal, state, and local laws carve out a handful of reasons that are illegal. For example, it’s illegal to fire employees due to their race or gender.
Violation of Employment Contract
Employees no longer work at-will when they have an employment contract. We usually think of employment contracts as being written, but they can also be formed by words and actions. (See our article explaining how employers create employment contracts and alter at-will employment.) A contract employee cannot be fired if it would violate the terms of the contract. Typically, this means that employers cannot fire employees with having a good reason (called “cause”) before the term of the contract is up. Employers also can’t fire contract employees in violation of state, federal, or local laws.
How Do I File a Wrongful Termination Claim?
If your wrongful termination claim is based on discrimination or harassment, you will need to file an administrative complaint first (called a “charge”). You must typically file your charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)—or a state agency that enforces antidiscrimination laws—within 180 days of the discrimination or harassment. The EEOC or the state agency will investigate your complaint and decide whether to take action. Most of the time, the EEOC will simply issue a “right-to-sue” letter, which allows you to file your wrongful termination lawsuit in court.
The process of filing an EEOC charge is relatively simple. You can file your claim in person at one of the EEOC’s local field offices or you can file your claim by mail. To file by mail, send a letter to the EEOC with your contract information, your employer’s contact information, an explanation of how you were discriminated against or harassed, and when these events happened. You must also sign your letter.
While you don’t need a lawyer to file an administrative charge, it’s often helpful to do so, especially if you plan on filing a lawsuit down the road. Once you file your claim, the EEOC will speak to you, your employer, and any relevant witnesses. The information that the EEOC gathers can be used as evidence in your subsequent wrongful termination lawsuit. The EEOC may also try to facilitate a settlement negotiation between you and your employer. A wrongful termination lawyer will ensure that you’re receiving a fair offer and that you don’t give up any rights that you shouldn’t.
For most other types of wrongful terminations claims, you aren’t required to file a claim with an administrative agency first (although you may have the option). You can go straight to filing a lawsuit in court. For this, you will almost certainly need the assistance of an employment lawyer.
Employment - Disclosure of Information - Breach of ConfidenceWrongful termination can be a devastating experience that not only affects your career in the short term but can also affect your ability to get back on your feet and find a new job.Firstly, your specific job and the employment contract that you signed and the local employment laws that govern where you live may largely determine whether or not you are a victim of wrongful termination.For example, if you signed a confidentiality agreement and there is verifiable proof that you violated this aspect of your agreement, this would most likely be a legitimate example of being fired for cause ie. the company had the right to fire you.Another example would be if you were caught stealing from your employer.But what if the circumstances regarding your termination aren't as clear?Often when an employee is fired, it might be on the basis of a perceived problem or disagreement of opinion such as your inability to do the job. Here are some other typical reasons that people get fired where a case of wrongful termination may exist: A personal conflict with your boss and/or colleagues that results in you getting fired. A breach of contract where you are improperly fired for violating part of your contract. A downsizing where you are told that your job is being eliminated only to find out that your employer then hires someone to replace you in the exact same position. Being fired or forced to quit so that your boss can hire a friend to replace you. Sexual harassment ie. you are sexually harassed and when you rebuff the advances or report them, you are fired. Discrimination based on sex, race, age, religion, sexual orientation, political affiliation, etc. You report a wrongdoing in the company and are fired ie. you are a whistleblower. These are just some of the reasons where a case of wrongful termination might exist. Certainly your specific situation and the employment laws that govern your area of employment may take precedence.How Can You Minimize The Chances Of Wrongful Termination?Wherever possible, always document your work and keep hard copies of any emails or other written documentation that positively comments on your work. For example, if you receive a positive employment review from your boss, bring a copy of it home and keep it on file.If you receive written praise from peers regarding a project you worked on, keep a copy of it at home.I'm not suggesting you remove work-related material and take it home with you if it violates your employment contract or if it's the property of the company but keeping a copy of personal materials that you should be entitled to such as a performance review is legitimate especially if your manager gives you a copy to keep.If you are unsure, ask your manager if you can keep a copy of your performance review at the time it is given to you. In this case, I suggest taking a copy home with you because in the case of a firing or downsizing, you might not be allowed to take anything out of the office or to access your computer.As a recruiter, I've seen job searchers use recent performance reviews from their current employer to highlight certain skills or accomplishments they are proud of.Having written documentation that positively highlights your work track record can come in handy down the line if you need to illustrate your past performance especially if comments being made about you by an ex-employer contradict positive comments that were written about you earlier on.If you feel that you are a victim of wrongful termination, the first thing you should consider is getting legal advice to properly understand your situation from a legal perspective and whether or not you have a legitimate case.
Wrongful Termination - A Guide for Victims
Have you ever felt like storming into your manager’s office and saying, "I've had enough and I quit!"? If so, you’re not alone: Many employees quit or resign because their working conditions have grown intolerable. If you were forced to quit your job due to illegal working conditions, it’s called a “constructive discharge.” If your employer tried to push you out for illegal reasons, you may have grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit, even if you technically quit your job.
What Is Constructive Discharge?When you quit or resign from your job because you were subjected to illegal working conditions that were so intolerable that you felt you had no other choice, it’s called a constructive discharge. Even though you quit, the law treats you as if you were fired, because your employer essentially forced you out. Proving You Were Forced to Quit To prove a claim of constructive discharge, you generally have to show all of the following:
- You were subjected to illegal working conditions or treatment at work (such as sexual harassment or retaliation for complaining of workplace safety violations).
- You complained to your supervisor, boss, or human resources department, but the mistreatment continued.
- The mistreatment was so intolerable that any reasonable employee would quit rather than continue to work in that environment.
- You quit because of the mistreatment.
For instance, say a male coworker is making sexual advances toward you or makes sexually explicit comments to you frequently at work, even though you've asked him to stop. You report his behavior to your supervisor and to the human resources manager, who both ignore your complaints. After several weeks, nothing has changed; your employer hasn't done anything to stop your coworker, who continues to harass you. Finally, you've had enough of the mistreatment and you quit. In such circumstances, you would probably have a good claim for constructive discharge.
If, on the other hand, you quit two days after you made your first complaint to the boss, you likely would not be able to prove constructive discharge. You must give your employer a chance to fix the problem rather than quitting at the first sign of trouble.
If you win a constructive discharge case, you will be entitled to money damages from your employer.
Proving Your Discharge Was Illegal
Most employees in this country work at will, which means they can be fired at any time, for any reason that is not illegal. It’s not enough to prove you were compelled to quit: You must also prove that your employer’s reason for forcing you out was illegal. If you felt compelled to quit because your manager was a bully who made work life miserable for everyone, for example, you wouldn’t necessarily have a constructive discharge claim. But if you quit because your manager bullied and berated you because of your disability, you likely have a strong legal claim.Here are some common wrongful termination claims that come up in constructive discharge situations:
- Discrimination and harassment. If you quit because you were being discriminated against or harassed due to a protected characteristic (such as your race or religion), you have a wrongful termination claim.
- Retaliation. If your employer forces you to quit because you complained about illegal workplace behavior (such as discrimination, harassment, failure to pay overtime, and so on), you have grounds for a lawsuit. The same is true if your employer pushes you out because you exercised your legal rights, such as your right to take time off work under the Family and Medical Leave Act, your right to join a union or discuss union matters with other employees, or your right to refuse to work in dangerous conditions.
- Breach of contract. If you have an employment contract stating you may be fired only for good cause, and your employer forces you to quit, you can sue your employer for not honoring the contract.
Damages for Constructive Discharge
If you win a constructive discharge case, you will be entitled to money damages from your employer. The damages available depend on the legal claims you can make—that is, they depend on the reason why your employer forced you out. Depending on the facts, you may be entitled to:
- Back Pay - The wages or benefits you lost as a result of being forced to quit
- Front Pay - The wages or benefits you will lose going forward, until you find a new job
- Attorneys’ Fees And Court Costs
- Compensatory Damages - Compensation for the pain and suffering or mental distress you experienced because of the discharge, and/or
- Punitive Damages - An award intended to punish your employer for especially egregious misconduct.
Constructive discharge cases can be hard to prove. You must show not only that your employer acted illegally, but also that the behavior was bad enough to compel a reasonable employee to quit. Courts tend to hold employees to a very high standard here, requiring proof that your working conditions were truly intolerable. To figure out whether you have strong legal claims, you’ll probably need to talk to an experienced employment lawyer.
In general, employees are typically not eligible to collect unemployment when they quit their jobs voluntarily. However, if you were forced to quit in a constructive discharge, you should still qualify for unemployment benefits. When you file your claim for benefits, explain that you were compelled to quit due to your employer’s mistreatment. (For more information, see Unemployment Compensation When You’ve Lost Your Job.)
Questions for Your Attorney
- How long do I have to file a lawsuit against my former employer for constructive discharge?
- Should I accept my employer's offer to rehire me if I win my constructive discharge suit?
- How long will my lawsuit take? Do I have to take a job that pays less than my former job while the case is pending?