Can I Sue for Wrongful Termination in Rhode Island?

Rhode Island, like many other states, is an employment at will state. This means that unless an employee has an employment contract or is employed under a collective bargaining agreement, employment may be terminated by the employer for any reason or no reason at all. Under Rhode Island employment law, however, there are limits to at-will firing. If the employee can prove that discrimination has occurred, or certain other rights have been breached, then a complaint of wrongful termination may lead to a lawsuit for wrongful termination. Suing your employer for wrongful termination is not for the fainthearted and you are advised to get legal help from an employment lawyer.

What is At-Will Employment?

Most waged employees in Rhode Island work under at-will employment conditions. By contrast, there are also other employees who may be salaried, or employed under an employment contract, or part of a collective employment agreement. If you are an at-will employee, your employment may be terminated at anytime and the employer does not have to give a reason. Similarly, you can leave employment at any time without giving notice. At-will termination is limited by statutory rights that employees have in Rhode Island, such as protection from  discrimination based on age, gender, color, race, religious denomination, disability, or ethnicity.

An employee in Rhode Island whose employment is based on a contract may only be terminated according to the conditions outlined by the contract, which also determines other conditions of employment such as work hours, wages, the employee’s duties and employment benefits.

What are My Rights in Wrongful Termination?

The reasons why an at-will employee might be wrongfully terminated include the following;

  • discrimination based on the categories listed above. This is probably the commonest reason for wrongful termination.
  • making a complaint about discrimination or any other workplace issue such as
  • unwillingness or refusal to commit a crime under orders from an employer;
  • being a whistleblower;
  • taking leave under the Family Leave Act.

Suing for Wrongful Termination

You cannot sue an employer for wrongful termination unless you have filed a complaint with a relevant state or federal body first. For example, if you believe that your employment has been terminated through discrimination against you, you should file a complaint first with the Rhode Island Human Rights Commission (RIHRC) or the federal agency, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC). If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated for any other breach of your employment rights, you should file a complaint with the state Department of Labor and Training.

These agencies will investigate your complaint and try and resolve the issue with your employer. If there is no satisfactory resolution, you have the right to sue your employer for a breach of your rights through the court.

The RIHRC and EEOC have strict deadlines for any complaint of employment termination based on discrimination. You will need as much supporting documentation as possible to support your allegation that your employment was terminated illegally. For example, if you believe that you were discriminated against because you belonged to one of Rhode Island’s “protected classes”, you will need evidence to support that allegation.

You will need evidence of your employment status, such as pay stubs, any employment contract or handbook if you had one, evidence that you were terminated and who issued the order to fire you.

If you have been evaluated at work and received an evaluation report, this may help determine the reason why you were fired.

If you can obtain statements from co-workers who are prepared to support your complaint that your employment was illegally terminated then these may prove useful.

When suing your employer for wrongful termination, you may seek remedies depending on the alleged reason for termination. Remedies that may be awarded include one or more of the following:

  • back and/or forward pay;
  • damages for emotional distress;
  • punitive damages;
  • reinstatement of employment.

Get Help Today

If you are considering suing your employer for wrongful termination and have either gone through the complaint stage with the state or federal agency, you may have a greater chance of success if you use an employment lawyer for legal help. A lawyer will understand state and federal laws regarding wrongful termination and determine whether you have good grounds for suing your employer. Your lawyer may also know what evidence you should have to support a lawsuit against your employer and help you build a convincing case.

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