Even if your employment is “at-will,” you still have the right to be free from a wrongful termination that violates public policy. This includes termination based on race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, pregnancy, age, and other protected categories.
What is Wrongful Termination?
In basic terms, “wrongful termination” is the illegal firing of an employee. Although it’s mostly up to the employer when to hire and fire workers, there are certain circumstances when the termination will be “wrongful” in the eyes of the law. Examples include if the employer violates the terms of an employment agreement or breaks the law. Federal and state workplace discrimination laws often come into play when dealing with wrongful termination cases. You need a wrongful termination attorney with experience handling federal and state civil rights laws.
What Are Grounds for Wrongful Termination?
To have a valid wrongful termination claim, employers must violate state or federal law when they fire employees. Because Tennessee employees work at will, in most cases employers can terminate workers at any time and for any legal reason. The law, however, places some restrictions on when employees can lose their job.
Contract claims: Employment contracts can contain a guarantee of employment for a certain period. They can also include a statement that mentions that the employer will only fire someone for cause. If your employer breaches the terms of the contract in firing you, then you will likely have a strong claim for wrongful termination. A contract can include oral and written agreements, such as an oral promise or an employee handbook.
Discrimination claims: Together, federal and Tennessee law has several characteristics that employers cannot base job decisions on. These include race, color, national origin, religion, sex, pregnancy, age, disability, genetic information, sexual orientation, gender identity, citizenship status, marital status, AIDS/HIV status, medical condition, political beliefs, political activities, military or veteran status, or for being a victim of stalking, assault, or domestic violence. You may also be able to claim additional damages like lost wages and benefits due to your termination.
Retaliation claims: All workers can exercise and enforce their employment rights. If you take time off to serve on a jury, file a complaint alleging discrimination or harassment, request or take family or medical leave, file a workers’ compensation claim, or complain about illegal wage and hour practices, then your employer cannot fire you because of those protected activities.
Violation of Public Policy: Public policy claims have similar grounds as retaliation claims, mandating that employees cannot lose their jobs for exercising a legal right, complaining about workplace illegality, or refusing to commit a legal act. You do not necessarily need to base your public policy claim on a specific legal provision to have a valid case. For example, employees that lost their jobs because they refused to participate in fraud by their company have grounds to sue for wrongful termination, even though no law or statute specifically forbids firing an employee for such an action.
Depending on the type of wrongful termination claim you have, your case may also involve other claims.