Wrongful termination is hard to prove because most employees are employed at will. This means most of the time while employed you and your employer are given the free will to decide when to start and finish employment and no reason has to be given by your employer if you are terminated. It is down to you to prove if your employer has violated any state or federal laws which cover discrimination, whistleblowing and the taking of family or medical leave.
1. Know Your Employment Status
Before you can file a claim for wrongful termination you should make sure you know your status as a worker. If you are an at-will employee, or you work as a contractor, this can affect the rules for termination. You should be able to tell by looking at the documents given to you when you began to work for your employer.
2. Know What Constitutes a Wrongful Termination
If an employer decides to fire you for a poor work record, then there is not much you can do about it. If you can prove you were fired due to the3 protected reasons then you may have grounds to file a wrongful termination claim. The 3 protected reasons are:
- family/medical leave
Based on federal laws an employer should not be able to terminate an employee due to any of the following reasons:
- Religion: Whether an employee is an atheist, evangelical Christian, or a Muslim, their religious beliefs are protected and are not a reason that can be given for terminating an employee. For some religions, an employer may be expected to make some specific accommodations for that person in the workplace to enable the employer to perform better at his/her job.
- Race: An employer is not allowed to terminate an employee based on his/her race.
- Pregnancy: women who fall pregnant are protected under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and cannot be terminated for that reason alone.
- Gender: It is illegal to terminate someone for being a male or female. In some states including New York if you are fired for being transgender you may have the right to file for wrongful termination under transgender laws.
- Disability: An employer cannot terminate an employee for being disabled and reasonable accommodation may be required for an employee with a disability
- Age: An employer can technically fire someone for being too young, but not for being too old, as long as being old is over 40 as described in the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).
The False Claims Act contains an anti-retaliation provision that makes it illegal for employers to retaliate against employees who participate in whistleblowing against them. Any employee who successfully proves a False Claims Act retaliation case is entitled to be reinstated and should receive the following:
- up to two times the amount of their back pay;
- interest on that back pay;
- special damages costs;
- attorney’s fees.
As well as the False Claims Act, there are several other federal and state laws which are specific to certain industries. These include provisions to protect whistleblowers from wrongful termination.
In most cases the Family and Medical Leave Act allows an employee to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for his or her own medical treatment or that of a close family member. Not every employee is covered but those who are employed by an employer which has 50 or more regular employees who work within 75 miles of each other are covered. Also, employees must have worked for at least one year for a total of at least 1,250 work hours in the year before to be eligible for coverage for medical or family leave.
3. Gather As much Evidence as Possible To Prove Your Wrongful Termination
It doesn’t matter which protected feature has led to your termination as long as you can prove that your termination falls under one of the protections. You can gather evidence from several different sources that may help you support your claim.
The most important one is eyewitnesses accounts of events that led up to your termination notice being received. The second is any communication that has taken place that indicates the reason for your termination. This could be text messages or emails that reveal the reason for your termination.
4. Proof of Damages
When you have gathered all the evidence you require to back up your wrongful termination claim you will need to record all the wages you are owed as these will be included in your claim. If the case has caused you a large amount of emotional distress you may be able to get the monetary value of your distress calculated and included in your claim.
Your doctor may be able to write a report proving your emotional distress. Finally, the cost of your attorney’s fees is also part of a wrongful termination claim.
5. Get a Professional on Your Side
An employment lawyer can help gather evidence and present a case for wrongful termination on your behalf. Fill out the Free Case Evaluation above to have your case looked over by a legal professional that takes case in your area!