How to Know If You Were Illegally Fired

Submitted by Elizabeth on

If you were fired, you may be wondering how to tell if it was illegal. Here’s how.

Illegal firing is another term for wrongful termination. There are three main ways employers may wrongfully terminate an employee which are illegal. These are breach of contract, retaliation, and discrimination.

Breach of Contract

The most obvious form of wrongful termination is usually related to a contract between the employee and employer. This typically involves a written contract, but it can also be an oral contract. If you have a contract, it may express terms and conditions of employment—one of which may be that your employer is only permitted to terminate you for particular reasons or if there is good cause. If you believe you have been terminated for any reason that is not consistent with your contract, you may have been wrongfully terminated. 


In some cases, an employer may illegally terminate an employee in retaliation for a just action taken by an employee. These could include whistleblowing (when an employee files a complaint against an employer because the employer had broken the law), or it had fired an employee because she was pregnant, which is illegal. Other reasons an employer may retaliate by firing an employee include:

when the employee takes medical or family leave which is an entitlement under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) where an employee is entitled to take up to 12-weeks of leave for a medical condition or that of a family member;

when an employee complains about sexual harassment as it is the responsibility of the employer to maintain a workplace free of sexual harassment and it is illegal for an employer to terminate an employee because of a sexual harassment complaint.


It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee because of their membership of a protected class. Protected classes include an employee’s race, color, national origin, gender, age if over 40, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity as well as being pregnant.

Examples of Wrongful Termination

Wrongful termination can take many forms. The following are just a few common examples of wrongful termination:

  • An employer firing an employee who has filed a complaint, claim, or lawsuit due to discrimination, harassment, a hostile work environment, etc. Firing an employee because they drew attention to misconduct in the workplace is a form of illegal workplace retaliation.
  • Firing an employee in a manner that qualifies as an act of discrimination against an employee who is a member of a protected class. An example of wrongful termination that overlaps with workplace discrimination might be an employer firing an employee upon learning of their sexual orientation.
  • In many instances, firing an employee for associating with a member of a protected class. For instance, an employer can’t fire an employee due to said employee’s religion. They may also not fire an employee for marrying someone of a particular religion (or ethnicity, race, etc.).
  • Firing an employee who has become disabled instead of making a reasonable accommodation for their disability.

If none of these examples of wrongful termination describe your experience, that doesn’t mean you don’t have a valid case. Review the matter with an employment law expert for more information.

It’s also worth noting that individual state laws may complement or supplement federal laws regarding wrongful termination. Someone familiar with the labor code in your state can explain in greater detail whether your boss was breaking the law when they fired you for a reason you believe may be illegal.

What To Do If You Experienced Wrongful Termination 

If you believe you have been a victim of a wrongful termination, you may be able to file a claim for compensation which will then lead to an amount of money being calculated to compensate you for your illegal firing. This may include back pay which is wages you would have collected had you not been terminated and a sum for the pain and suffering you have endured due to the wrongful termination. It is important to note that you must provide sufficient evidence that proves you have been wrongfully terminated. When you have gathered all the evidence, you will need to report the incident to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). And, if you speak with a lawyer, you may have a higher chance of winning compensation compared to if you were to file your claim on your own.

Get Help With Your Wrongful Termination Claim 

Evidence is vital to winning a claim for illegal firing. If you work with an attorney, you will likely have a higher likelihood of receiving the compensation you deserve for being illegally fired. Complete the Free Case Evaluation on this page to get connected and speak with an independent, participating attorney who subscribes to our site and can help you today—at zero cost to you

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