I am contacted regularly by people who have been fired. They want to know whether they can file a legal claim against their former employers. Actually, most believe that they have a legal right to file a claim because something about their termination was “wrong” or “unfair.” Unfortunately, a termination that is based on wrong facts, or is unfair, or makes no sense does not create a legal claim for wrongful firing. Let’s look at what does create such a claim for wrongful firing which is also called wrongful termination, wrongful discharge or wrongful dismissal.
In North Carolina and Tennessee, the two states I practice regularly in, an employee who does not have an employment contract, is not a member of a union, or doesn’t work for certain governmental agencies, can only file a legal claim for wrongful firing if the motivation for the firing is unlawful. In general, there are only two unlawful motives: unlawful discrimination and unlawful retaliation. Keep in mind that most reasons to discriminate or reasons for retaliation are not unlawful. Here are the most common forms of unlawful discrimination and retaliation in employment.
By statutory law, discrimination is unlawful if it is based on:
- national origin
- age 40 or older
By statutory and common law, retaliation is generally unlawful if it is based on a protected activity such as:
- filing for or seeking workers compensation benefits
- reporting an employer’s unlawful actions to a governmental agency
- refusing an order to violate the law
- reporting unlawful discrimination (as described above)
- exercising certain rights protected by law including jury and military service, using FMLA or certain lawful products
If you have been terminated or fired and believe that any of the above listed, I recommend that you contact an employment attorney to discuss. Our firm represents clients filing claims for wrongful firing throughout North Carolina and Tennessee from offices in the Knoxville, Greensboro and Charlotte area.