How Do You Respond to Wrongful Termination?

Submitted by rachel on

When you lose a job because of an act of wrongful termination, you may be eligible for compensation. If you are a victim of wrongful termination, you should follow a few steps to hold your employer accountable for breaking one or more state and/or federal employment laws. 

What Is Wrongful Termination?

Wrongful termination takes place when an employer fires an employee for an illegal reason. The following are the most common reasons you may have been a victim of wrongful termination:

  • You reported and refused to conduct an illegal act or safety violation;
  • You refused to participate in and reported harassment at your workplace;
  • You were fired because you are a member of a protected class such as your age; color, gender, religion, ethnicity, gender identity, pregnancy and age; 
  • Your employer violated a federal or state labor law;
  • Your employer fired you, but failed to follow their termination policies.

What to Do if You Were Wrongfully Terminated 

  • If discrimination caused your wrongful termination, you should file a report with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You cannot sue your employer until your case has been approved by the EEOC.
  • If you were fired in retaliation because you reported illegal or unsafe work practices or products, you are protected under whistleblower laws. You should report this wrongful termination to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). 
  • If you were fired by your employer due to the fact that you exercised your rights under a state labor law, your termination should be reported to your state's labor department.
  • If your employer fired you for the reason that you exercised your rights related to wages, overtime, or leave, you should file a complaint with the Department of Labor.

How to Handle a Wrongful Dismissal  

Wrongful termination can happen for one of several reasons, which include harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. Let’s take a look at how you should respond to a case of wrongful termination.

Stay in Control

Anger is one of the emotions that can lead to the making of poorly thought-out decisions. The urge to let your employer know how you feel should be suppressed to ensure that you never lose control of the legal issues that surround an act of wrongful termination. Remain calm and do not give in to the temptation to give your employer a large piece of your mind.

Determine the Cause of Your Dismissal

Ask your employer to explain why you lost your job, preferably in the form of a written request. The letter you send should respectfully ask for the reason or reasons for your dismissal, as well as any documentation that backs up your employer’s claim that you lost your job for a valid reason. Since most employment relationships are based on the at-will legal principle, your employer might be able to fire you for just about any reason, as long as the reason is considered legal.

Gather and Organize Evidence

To win a wrongful termination case, you must submit evidence that demonstrates your employer violated one or more provisions of state and/or federal law. For example, if you lost your job because of discrimination, you must collect evidence that proves your employer violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The evidence to submit for a civil lawsuit and/or filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) includes emails, text messages, photographs, video images, and the results of performance reviews.

How to File a Complaint Against an Employer for Wrongful Termination

How Do You Prove Wrongful Termination?

Wrongful termination refers to when an employer illegally fires an employee, i.e., when an employer’s basis of firing their employee is in violation of a state or federal employment law. Generally, the most common cases of wrongful termination are the following:

  • Discrimination because the employee belonged to a protected class, such as their gender, age, disability, religion, color, etc. In this case, the claim is filed with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) (if employed in workplaces with 15 or more employees). In smaller workplaces, the claim is filed with the equivalent state anti-discrimination agency.
  • Termination because the employee refused to carry out an illegal or unsafe activity, applied for leave under the FMLA, claimed workers’ compensation for a workplace injury or illness or acted as a whistleblower. In this case, the employee files a lawsuit in a civil court, ideally with the help of an employment lawyer.

Regardless of the reasoning for wrongful termination, the employee must provide evidence to the anti-discrimination body or the court proving that the termination violated a state or federal law. Evidence that could support a claim for wrongful termination could include:

  • evidence of employment such as pay stubs, employment contract, etc.;
  • workplace terms and conditions;
  • any past performance reviews or other material on the personnel file;
  • evidence of lost wages because of the termination;
  • evidence to support the claim that the employee was terminated wrongfully such as correspondence between the employee and management, witness statements, recordings of comments made by supervisors or managers.

Can You Fire an Employee For No Reason?

If your workplace is in an at-will state, then you can fire an employee without giving a reason. However there are situations where employees are protected from being fired. Under the Federal Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employees and job applicants are protected from employment discrimination based on the following characteristics:

  • race;
  • color;
  • religion;
  • sexual orientation;
  • gender;
  • national origin;
  • pregnancy.

Title VII protection covers workplaces that employ 15 or more employees and several employment situations, which include recruitment, recruitment and terminations.  A firing is considered a wrongful termination when it is related to discrimination, retaliation against you because an employee has been engaged in whistle blowing or breach of contract when an employment contract exists.

Regardless of the reasoning for wrongful termination, the employee is required to provide evidence proving that the termination violated a state or federal law. Evidence that you would expect an employee to provide to support a claim a wrongful termination claim could include:

  • evidence proving employment such as pay stubs and an employment contract, etc.;
  • a document containing workplace terms and conditions;
  • any documents that show previous performance reviews;
  • proof of the value of wages lost wages due to the termination;
  • evidence that supports the claim that your employee was terminated wrongfully such as correspondence that took place between the employee and management, witness statements, recordings of comments made by supervisors or managers.

Contact an Employment Lawyer

Fighting back against wrongful dismissal requires the legal support of an employment attorney. A lawyer can help you gather and organize the evidence you need to submit a persuasive EEOC complaint, as well as a civil lawsuit. Since witness accounts represent an important element of building a compelling wrongful termination case, an employment attorney may interview potential witnesses to provide legal support for the physical evidence collected. Working with an employment lawyer may lead to a favorable legal settlement, which allows you to avoid a costly and time-consuming civil trial

If you lost your job because of an act of wrongful termination, you should take action immediately to hold your employer responsible for breaking a state and/or federal law. Although it can be difficult to move forward after a wrongful dismissal, procrastinating delays a legal outcome that should be in your favor. Fill out the Free Case Evaluation on this page to get connected with an independent, participating attorney who subscribes to the website.

Additional Resources