What do you do when your whole world has been turned upside down by two little words, "You're fired." Maybe you were expecting it -- and maybe the news came as a shock. Either way, you have a sinking feeling that even though you weren't fired for any legitimate reason, your abrupt termination will be a black mark on your resume that will be hard to overcome.
Were you fired illegally? While employers generally enjoy some pretty broad latitude when it comes to letting their employees go, there are some limits. Wrongful terminations do happen. Here are some of the circumstances that could give you the right to sue for wrongful termination:
A Contract Was Broken
If your employer violated a written or implied contract with you, that's illegal. For example, if you were given an employee handbook at the start of your employment that assured you that—should you ever make a serious mistake—you'd be given a write-up and a chance to improve before being fired. If you were summarily dismissed without that opportunity, that's a violation of your implied contract.
Public Policy Forbids It
You can be fired for a lot of reason—but not your race, religion, immigration status, national origin, disability, gender, age or a number of other reasons that are protected under the law. This is considered a violation of public policy. For example, if you were recently diagnosed with Lupus and you requested reasonable accommodations from your employer to cope with a flair of your condition, your employer would not be justified in firing you because of the inconvenience. Similarly, if you requested time off work under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) to care for a sick child, your employer is legally prohibited from firing you because of your request.
It Was Retaliation
Sometimes an employer will retaliate against an employee who chooses to exercise his or her legal rights. Firing you in retaliation for exercising your rights under labor laws is always wrongful. For example, maybe you posted something on Facebook to other employees complaining about the hours you were being forced to work or the general working conditions at the job site—and your employer got angry and fired you. Expressing discontent over your working conditions is a legal act, however, and you can't be retaliated against for it. Similarly, maybe you reported a safety violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Firing you for doing so would be a violation of your rights.
Not every firing is fair and not every unfair firing is wrongful. It often takes legal guidance from a wrongful termination attorney to determine if you have a valid case against your employer.