Getting fired can be part of life: sometimes companies go under, have to downsize, or need to get rid of a poorly performing employee for legitimate reasons. But sometimes, a job dismissal breaches professional ethics and violates state and federal laws. That’s when you should speak with a wrongful termination lawyer in Jackson County, Missouri to ensure your rights are protected.
9 Situations That Could Be Considered Wrongful Termination
Termination Based on Discrimination
One of the most straightforward instances of wrongful termination occurs when an employer fires an employee for discriminatory reasons. Under federal and Missouri law, discrimination due to race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy status, disability, age (if the employee is over 40, and with a few exceptions), or genetic information is illegal.
Consider a situation where an employee of a certain race consistently receives outstanding performance reviews. Once a new management team takes over, they suddenly start critiquing that employee’s work, but not the work of other employees of other races. If the employee is then terminated based on these unfounded performance claims, racial discrimination could be at play.
Retaliation for Legal Activities
Employers cannot terminate employees in retaliation for engaging in protected activities. These activities include filing complaints of discrimination, participating in investigations into illegal employer practices, whistleblowing on unlawful activities within the company, or asserting rights to fair labor practices, including wage and hour laws.
Consider a scenario where an employee reports safety violations relevant to occupational health standards. If the employer subsequently singles out the reporting individual for termination, this could form the basis of a wrongful termination lawsuit grounded in retaliation.
Breach of Contract and Implied Promises
Wrongful termination can arise from breaches of contract, whether the contract is written or oral. If an employee signs a written contract with stipulations about job security and the conditions for termination, any deviation by the employer from these agreed-upon terms could be legally challenged.
In some cases, employers provide oral assurances or handbooks implying job security, creating an “implied contract.” If an employee is then fired outside of the established policies or contrary to verbal assurances, they might have a case for wrongful termination. When it comes to oral agreements in particular, the situation can be hard to navigate, and impossible without the help of an experienced wrongful termination lawyer. Employees are well advised to keep detailed records of anything they believe contributed to a wrongful termination scenario.
Violation of Public Policy
Missouri law prohibits wrongful termination for reasons that violate public policy, and this is an exception to Missouri’s general at-will employment stance. Employers cannot fire employees for refusing to engage in illegal activities at the employer’s request, reporting violations of the law (whistleblowing), or exercising their statutory rights, such as voting or taking family and medical leave.
For example, an employee cannot be legally terminated for taking time off to serve on a jury. Jury duty is a civic responsibility, and terminating an employee for fulfilling that duty could be seen as a violation of public policy. Likewise, if an employee refuses an employer’s directive to commit an illegal act, such as fraud or environmental law violations, and is subsequently fired, the termination is wrongful under this doctrine.
These claims can be especially complex, as “public policy” can sometimes be a matter of legal interpretation. It’s always crucial to work with an experienced Jackson County, Missouri wrongful termination lawyer in these instances.
Employees are often concerned about reporting harassment or abuse in the workplace due to fear of retaliation. However, employers are prohibited from terminating employees for reporting such incidents, as it’s in the public interest to have a safe, harassment-free workplace. This protection extends both to situations where an employee may be a victim of sexual harassment and when the reported abuse was committed against others in the workplace.
Imagine a scenario where an employee reports being harassed to human resources and is then fired for being a “problem employee.” This termination could be deemed a retaliatory act. Similarly, if an employee witnesses abuse of another employee or unethical behavior affecting more than one individual, reports it, and is then fired, it could be a case of wrongful dismissal.
Dismissal Contrary to Collective Bargaining Agreements
Employees who are members of a union are typically subject to a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). These agreements include specific protections for employees and procedures that employers must follow before termination, including, in many instances, the requirement for “just cause” for dismissal.
If an employer terminates an employee without following the CBA’s stipulated procedures, or without just cause when it’s required, this action could constitute wrongful termination. For example, suppose a CBA requires a three-step disciplinary process before termination. An employee who is fired after only one warning could argue that their dismissal violated the CBA. Similarly, if the agreement stipulates that employees can only be terminated for certain reasons, and the employee is fired for a reason outside of those, it could be grounds for a wrongful termination claim.
Termination Due to Medical Leave or Health Conditions
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects employees who require time off for medical reasons, either for themselves or to care for family members. It is unlawful for employers to terminate employees for taking leave that falls under these protections. Under this federal law, employers covered by the law must give eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for any of the following:
- Birth and care or adoption or fostering of a new child
- To care for a spouse, child, or parent with serious health issues
- To get treatment for a serious health issue that keeps the employee from working
Employers cannot terminate an employee for exercising their rights under the FMLA; however, not everyone’s situation falls under the purview of the FMLA. Talk with your lawyer about what options you have if you’ve been fired for medical reasons.
Termination Based on Military Service
The federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) prohibits employers from terminating employees due to their military commitments. This ensures that individuals who serve or have served in the Armed Forces, Reserves, National Guard, or other uniformed services are not disadvantaged because of their service, can be reemployed once they return from duty, and aren’t discriminated against due to their service, whether that’s past, present, or upcoming.
Termination in Violation of the Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing
Although Missouri is an at-will employment state, meaning employers can typically terminate employees for any reason, there is an exception known as the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. This “covenant” holds that employment relationship involve an obligation of mutual respect and commitment to honor the terms of the employment. If an employer fires someone to avoid having to fulfill their personal duties, like paying earned bonuses or commissions, it could be considered a violation of this covenant.
Talk to a Jackson County, Missouri Wrongful Termination Lawyer to Protect Your Rights
Wrongful termination can be hard to prove, but at Holman Schiavone, LLC, we specialize in assessing the nuances and details of each case to protect those who have been fired wrongfully. If you suspect your termination was unlawful, contact Holman Schiavone, LLC right away for a free consultation.