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How to Identify Wrongful Termination

Posted by Kathy Harrington-Sullivan | Jan 14, 2019 | 0 Comments

Have you been fired from a job? If so, do you know if your termination was legal? A wrongful (i.e, illegal) termination occurs when an employee is fired in violation of federal, state or local laws, or the terms of their employment contract.

Were You Wrongfully Terminated from Your Job?

Was it Discrimination? Discrimination can occur based on age, sex, race, national origin, pregnancy disability or religion. If you are trying to figure out of you have experienced discrimination, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Did your employer or supervisor make any discriminatory statements, verbally or in writing?
  • Were you fired soon after your employer discovered your religion or age or race?
  • Were you a part of an oddly limited “group” to experience layoffs (i.e. all women or all over 40)?
  • Are employees treated differently by your former employer depending on their age, sex, religion, etc.?
  • Do younger employees frequently arrive to work late while older employees face disciplinary action for tardiness?
  • Do women receive better, easier, more exciting assignments than male co-workers?
  • Have you heard the employer or supervisors on the job make comments indicating a bias towards a certain group?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, it's possible you were wrongfully (illegally) terminated due to discrimination.

Was it Illegal Harassment? In some cases, the employer or will engage in harassment in the workplace, which may also be prohibited by law. Offensive comments or jokes about an employee's race, gender, or other protected characteristics that go beyond simple teasing, or isolated incidents that may create a hostile work environment for workers are two examples of illegal harassment in the workplace. If you aren't sure if you have experienced illegal harassment, ask yourself the following questions.

  • Did your employer or supervisor make insulting or offensive comments about your age, sex, disability, race, religion, etc.?
  • Was this type of comment or joke a regular occurrence? Did it happen in the presence of others?
  • Did your employer or supervisor make unwanted sexual advances or request favors of a sexual nature or seek to create a physical or romantic relationship?
  • If you were engaged in a relationship with your employer or supervisor, did the relationship or the ending of the relationship result in negative treatment in the workplace or termination of your employment?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, it's possible you were wrongfully terminated due to harassment.

Was it Illegal Retaliation? Employers who fire or tangibly punish employees for participating in protected practices (i.e. reporting illegal behavior, reporting safety violations, reporting illegal discrimination or illegal harassment in the workplace, etc.) may be acting in violation of employment law. If you aren't sure if you have experienced illegal retaliation, ask yourself the following questions.

  • Did you report any protected issues to a supervisor or an outside agency prior to being fired?
  • If you did make a report about a protected issue, did your employer or supervisors respond negatively? Were you punished in any way on the job?
  • Before you were fired, did you participate in any type of investigation into your employer's behavior or business practices?
  • Were you warned not to report protected issues or participate in a resulting investigation?
  • Were you punished for exercising your legal rights? For instance, were you punished for taking covered medial leave or time off?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, it's possible you were wrongfully terminated due to retaliation.

Was there a Breach of Contract? Employers are also prohibited from firing an employee in violation of their employment agreement. Doing so can constitute illegal termination. Some workers have written contracts in place that define their employment relationship with the employer, but even those without an actual written employment agreement in place may have an implied contractual agreement with their place of employment. An implied contract can be created through a detailed employee handbook or may be based on the words or actions of the employer. If you aren't sure if you have experienced a breach of contract, ask yourself the following questions.

  • Did you have a written contract in place? Did it establish well-defined reasons for termination or a termination procedure?
  • Did the company have a detailed employee handbook? Was there a section included on termination? Discipline? Advancement?  While employer policy is not law, there may be limited circumstances where employer policies can be enforced against the employer.
  • Did your employer or supervisor on the job make any promises (verbally or in writing) about your job being “guaranteed” for a certain duration or offer you “tenure?”
  • Did your employer make any statements that indicated you could only be fired from your position for certain reasons?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, it's possible you were wrongfully terminated due to breach of contract.

If you have been wrongfully terminated from your job or if you need to talk to an experienced Atlanta employment law attorney about how to determine if you have been wrongfully terminated, please get in touch as soon as possible. At Barrett & Farahany we do things differently; justice at work is not only our profession, it's our passion.

About the Author

Kathy Harrington-Sullivan

Kathy Harrington Sullivan is a Partner at Barrett & Farahany who helps potential clients understand the law, clarify their rights, and determine which steps they can take to protect themselves and their jobs.


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When you reach out to us, you will receive a complimentary consultation with one of our skilled Atlanta employment attorneys. During our initial consultation with you, we can help you to better understand your rights and will work with you to determine what course of action is in your best interest. We take great pride in providing assistance based on years of experience negotiating and litigating employment matters to protect employee interests. If you find yourself in need of dedicated legal representation, we are prepared to advocate on your behalf – our goal is always to protect employee victims of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.