Wrongful Termination Tonawanda
In Tonawanda, “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 Tonawanda 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.
The Employment TribunalMost employees are hired according to what is called an "at-will" basis. This means that the employer may terminate the employment for nearly any reason so long as it is not illegal. Conversely, this also means that the employee may quit their job at their own discretion for any legitimate reason.At will employment provides both the employer and the employee a great deal of freedom and mobility to adapt to the ever-changing job market. The majority of states assume that employment is on an at-will basis if a valid employment contract does not exist between employer and employee.Given the very few restrictions involved in an at-will employment arrangement, it may seem difficult for a wrongful termination to occur. So, under what circumstances is it unlawful for a person to terminate an at will employment?There are several reasons that termination of at will employment may constitute wrongful termination, which will be discussed below. They mainly deal with termination by the employer, although employees may also be held liable as well.Wrongful Terminations Based on Violations of LawAt will employment is subject to various federal and state laws which make termination illegal under certain circumstances. The following are some situations where terminations of an at will employee are wrongful because they constitute a violation of law:Discrimination by the Employer: According to various anti-discrimination statutes, employers cannot terminate an at-will employee on the basis of their membership in certain designated categories. These categories include race, age, nation of origin, sex, religion, and in some states, sexual orientation. This is probably the most common basis for a wrongful termination suit. "Retaliatory Discharge": Retaliatory discharge is when the employer has terminated employment in response to an employee's actions. Employers are prohibited from firing employees who have reported instances of the employer's misconduct internally or to a reporting agency. Most of these types of wrongful terminations deal with employees who have reported instances of sexual harassment. The purpose of anti-retaliation statutes (also known as "whistleblower" statutes) is to ensure that employees can report misconduct without fear of losing their job. Illegal Acts: Superiors may not order subordinates to engage in or participate in activities that amount to an illegal act. Accordingly, employers may not terminate an at will employee who has refuses to agree to an illegal act. Breach of a Contractual Obligation: While at-will employment usually implies that there is no employment contract involved, sometimes employees wish to state certain employment terms in a written contract. Terminations that violate the terms of a contract may be considered wrongful. This applies when either the employer or the employee violates the contract in terminating the employment. Taking leave for family or medical reasons: The Family and Medical Leave Act provides guidelines for employees who wish to take leave for family or medical reasons. Employers cannot fire an employee for taking a leave which is in accordance with the Act. Violations of a company's own termination procedures: Some employers specifically provide for their own termination procedures in their employee handbook. A wrongful termination lawsuit may prevail in some instances where employers have failed to follow their own regulations and guidelines set forth in their handbook. These are the most common situations dealing with at-will terminations that violate the law. They have a good chance of success in a court of law because they are backed by major Federal laws passed by the legislature to ensure fair and just employment practices.Wrongful Terminations based on Public Policy ViolationsIn addition to violations of the law, termination of at will employment may be wrongful if it is contrary to public policy. Public policy refers to the body of principles that reflect the collective moral and ethical stance of a community.An example of a public policy is when the government grants tax credits for people who donate to a non-profit organization. The public policy which motivates the tax credit is that people should be encouraged to contribute to humanitarian organizations.Public policy is not law in itself, and courts are not required to base their decisions on public policy, but they can weigh heavily in wrongful termination suits. Here are some examples of wrongful terminations and corresponding public policy justifications:Firing an employee who has merely exercised a constitutional right (such as the right to free speech) Public policy justification: people are discouraged from interfering with constitutionally protected rights Firing an employee who reported an employer violation Public policy justification: employees should be encouraged to report instances of employer misconduct Firing an employee who has fulfilled a civic duty such as a jury summons Public policy justification: civic duties are important and can sometimes even take priority over employment responsibilitiesMost judges would prefer to base their decisions on statutes or case law rather than public policy. This is because public policy is not law, and it often varies from region to region within the U.S. However, some states do permit recovery for terminations based on public policy violations.Wrongful Termination based on Breach of an Implied CovenantAnother reason that termination of at will employment may be considered wrongful is if it constitutes a breach of an implied covenant. An implied covenant is an agreement that is not necessarily stated but rather is assumed as a condition to the employment.An example of this is an implied covenant of good faith. This implied covenant assumes that the employer and employee will act in good faith (i.e., use their best efforts) in providing their services to one another. Another is the implied covenant of fair dealings, that is, that the parties will act in a manner that is fair and will not put the other at a disadvantage.An employer who has fired their employee because they wish to withhold benefits such as end of the year bonuses or sales commissions would be in violation of the implied covenant of good faith. Employers are expected to make good on the promises they make in hiring a person, and failure to act in good faith during a termination would be considered wrongful. Employees can also violate the good faith covenant, for example, by not providing enough notice before resigning. Obtaining Relief for a Wrongful Termination of At-will EmploymentAt will employees who have been wrongfully terminated are entitled to various remedies under law. These may include: reinstatement to their former position, recovery of lost wages, entitlement to back pay, and establishment of further measures for preventing future violations.In most cases, a wrongful termination lawsuit cannot be filed unless the victim first files a claim with a Federal and/or state regulatory agency such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). After filing with the EEOC, the agency will conduct an investigation and order that the proper remedy be applied, such as recovering back pay. Only after the EEOC is unable to determine a proper remedy may a legal claim be filed in a court of law.Conclusion: Some Points to ConsiderAt will employment is the norm in the majority of all states. Since there is usually no contract involved, termination must follow procedures dictated by employment laws. In the event that you suspect a wrongful termination claim, an attorney who is well-versed in wrongful termination laws can help you greatly. You may even wish to hire a lawyer at the EEOC reporting stage to help you file your claim. Here are some points to go over with an attorney:Termination of at will employment may be wrongful on the basis of a violation of law, a violation of public policy, or a breach of an implied covenant If you are an employer, be sure that you are following your company's own termination procedures when firing an employee Double check with your lawyer to see what types of relief can be granted under laws and with the EEOC
Wrongful Termination - Understanding Your Legal Rights
The defendant resigned and found employment with one of the claimant's competitors. Shortly after her resignation, the claimant discovered that the defendant had sent three e-mails to her personal e-mail account prior to leaving the company. The e-mails concerned:
* Presentations she had made to the claimant's customers;
* Feedback which customers had given in relation to the claimant's services; and
* Prices of the claimant's products.
The claimant was of the opinion that the information contained in the e-mails was confidential and therefore violated the terms of the defendant's contract of employment. The claimant confronted the defendant with its discovery.
The defendant said that she had sent the e-mails to her personal e-mail account in error, and offered to let the claimant view her personal e-mail account to show that she had not breached the terms of her contract. The claimant tried to persuade the defendant to stay in its employment, but was unsuccessful.
The claimant then instructed its solicitors to write to the defendant alleging that the defendant had breached the terms of her employment which amounted to breach of confidence. The claimant also requested the return of all its materials which were in the defendant's possession. The defendant replied to the letter stating that the e-mails were not sent to anyone else, and that once the error had been discovered, she had not even opened them.
The claimant did not respond to her letter. They instead issued proceedings against her and applied for an interim injunction. They alleged that the sending of the e-mails to her personal account amounted to her 'using' confidential information in contravention to her contractual obligations. They also alleged that by her failing to immediately return their materials, she had further breached the terms of her contract.
The claim was dismissed. The court held the where the e-mails had remained unopened the confidential information had not been 'used' in a way which amounted to breach of confidence. Although she had not immediately returned the materials, she had previously offered the claimant the permission to view her personal e-mail account and to delete the e-mails relating to the claimant's confidential information.
In addition to this, the court held that the information which was the subject of the claimant's complaint was utterly innocuous and that the claimant had reacted totally disproportionately. The matter should not have been taken to court and the defendant's undertakings had been adequate.
© RT COOPERS, 2006. This Briefing Note does not provide a comprehensive or complete statement of the law relating to the issues discussed nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight general issues. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in relation to particular circumstances.