A looming termination is understandably unnerving, especially when it's not clear whether there is any legal protection that may help. One of the most important things for employees to know is this: there are some federal job protections in limited circumstances, but not all discrimination, retaliation or harassment is illegal.
If the discrimination, retaliation, or harassment/bullying at work is not based on anything protected by law, then, save for criminal violations like assault and battery, the employee may be completely at the mercy of the employer in the way they are treated at work, up to and including a termination, and regardless of any advance warning. Examples of legally protected issues include race, religion, gender, sexual harassment, age, disability, national origin, pregnancy, FMLA, or overtime.
Other common workplace issues, like competitive jealousy, office politics, unfounded bullying, or personality clashes, have no legal protections whatsoever. It's important to realize that reporting unprotected issues can leave the employee wide open to further mistreatment or even termination - and such a termination might be grossly unfair, but completely legal.
In an at-will state, and most states are, the hard truth is that none of us are entitled to our jobs, but we are entitled to some legal protections at work in certain circumstances. If one of the legally protected issues listed above is a suspected basis for mistreatment or retaliation, then employee complaints (whether made internally or lodged with the EEOC) about the mistreatment or retaliation would also be protected. It would be illegal to continue to retaliate against or terminate an employee for making such a complaint, as long as the complaint was based on a reasonable, good-faith belief about treatment that is, or is approaching, unlawful.
If you are uncertain whether your employer is doing (or is about to do) something illegal, the best approach is to consult with an attorney, and the best timing is to do so early on, when the problem starts – don't wait until the problem is out of hand to speak with someone. A knowledgeable employment attorney can discuss your situation with you and help you figure out what protections may be available to you. Further, if your situation is one protected by law, an attorney can advise you about what steps you may be able to take to protect your rights going forward.
If you think you have a claim against your employer, call 404-487-0903 to speak with one of our attorneys, or choose a day and time most convenient for you and visit our website at www.justiceatwork.com to schedule your complimentary consultation with an attorney.