A wrongful termination attorney practices in a specific area of employment law, handling cases in which an employee has been fired in violation of his legal rights. The attorney represents the employee in order to secure job reinstatement and/or money damages for her client. There are several employment situations a wrongful termination attorney may address, including breach of contract, workers compensation claims, workplace safety and sexual harassment.
This type of attorney deals with several forms of termination that can make discharge illegal. One is when the employee is terminated for exercising her legal rights. These involve situations like filing for a workers compensation claim, reporting safety violations on the part of her employer to the appropriate government agency, or requesting that her employer comply with state or federal regulations such as overtime pay and minimum wage laws. Such terminations are unlawful because they violate public policy in the areas of safe and fair working conditions.
Another type of wrongful termination involves the violation or “breach” of a contract between the employer and the employee regarding the specific terms of employment. The contract can be written or oral, as long as the employee is given specific information about things like pay and working conditions. The contract might also be “implied” through statements or representations of the employer contained in a policy manual or employment handbook. The wrongful termination attorney would attempt to show how the materials constituted a legal agreement between the employer and the employee.
In some situations, an employer may find ways to force an employee to quit rather than fire him. In these “constructive discharge” situations, the wrongful termination attorney must prove that is was the conduct of the employer that led the employee to leave the job. The conduct might include things like withholding raises or bonuses, inventing mistakes the employee has made, or giving him new tasks outside his job description. In extreme cases, the employer may even fabricate stories about the employee. The attorney may then have to litigate the issue of defamation as part of the wrongful termination complaint.
An employee may sometimes lose employment because of discrimination on the part of the employer. Both state and federal law prohibit discrimination based on age, race, sex, national origin and religion. In some cases, if the employee is subject to pervasive sexual harassment, it may constitute sex discrimination. In discrimination cases, the employee may first have to “exhaust” the claim with an administrative body such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EECOC) before filing a lawsuit in court. The wrongful termination attorney would represent the employee at EECOC proceedings and any subsequent court hearings.