What is Unjust Termination?

K. Testa

Unjust termination, also called wrongful termination, is a situation in which an employee is fired from his or her job in violation of a law or policy. For example, the dismissal could be the result of discrimination, a breach of contract, or some other unlawful action. Some cases are easier to prove than others. Legal remedies for unjust termination can include reinstatement, back pay, and additional damages, based on the specific details of one’s case.

Someone unjustly terminated usually has several legal options available.
Someone unjustly terminated usually has several legal options available.

International laws regarding unjust termination may vary. In the U.S., for example, employees in most states are subject to an employment-at-will doctrine. This generally means that an employer can fire an employee for any reason, or for no reason at all. Similarly, an employee has the right to quit his or her job for no reason. Unjust termination, however, is typically the result of a policy violation or an illegal act, rather than being based primarily on the employee’s job performance.

Producing low quality work or straying from company policies are common reasons why employees are legitimately fired from their jobs.
Producing low quality work or straying from company policies are common reasons why employees are legitimately fired from their jobs.

Two common reasons for unjust termination include discrimination and retaliation, which are often related. The discrimination is usually based on a protected status such as race or gender, and retaliation typically takes place when the employee is fired for filing a discrimination claim or otherwise participating in an investigation. Furthermore, retaliation can generally be alleged when someone is discharged for refusing to participate in an illegal activity on behalf of the employer.

Being fired after sustaining a workplace injury is an example of unjust termination.
Being fired after sustaining a workplace injury is an example of unjust termination.

Unjust termination can also result from a breach of contract, or a breach of company policy or other public policy. One example of wrongful termination as a public policy violation is retaliation for whistle blower activity, which is protected by employment law in many areas. Breach of a company policy can include the failure by the employer to follow or enforce its own termination procedures. An employee can typically claim a breach of contract if there is a collective bargaining agreement in place, and he or she must usually file a grievance with the union to pursue justice.

Someone whose employment was terminated in an unjust manner can usually pursue one of several legal options. In the U.S., he or she can file an administrative complaint with the appropriate body, such as the Department of Labor or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for discrimination, or with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for whistle blowing actions regarding workplace violations. Alternatively, one can hire a private attorney to file a lawsuit against the employer. The most common types of legal remedies can include reinstatement or monetary compensation, such as back pay and additional damages.

The EEOC works to protect workers from being discriminated against based on their age.
The EEOC works to protect workers from being discriminated against based on their age.

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Discussion Comments

jennmaggard

If you are hired by a sole proprietorship to perform 'services to businesses' he has binding contracts with, and you are paid in a non-taxed monthly paycheck, are the parties classified as 'employer and employee'?

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