What is a Wrongful Termination?
Many people say they have been "wrongfully terminated" or "wrongfully discharged" if they were fired unfairly, arbitrarily or without just cause. But not every unfair firing is illegal. That is because most employees who work in New Jersey and New York can be fired for almost any reason or even for no reason at all. Lawyers call this being an employee at will since you can be fired or resign at will. Unless you have a written or verbal term of years’ employment contract, are a civil service employee, are a member of a labor union or have some other legal protection from being fired, you probably are an employee at will.
Can I Sue If I Was Wrongfully Fired?
Fortunately, there are many important exceptions to employment at will. For example, in New Jersey and New York it is illegal discrimination if your company fires you because of your age, color, gender, mental or physical disability, marital status, national origin, pregnancy, race, religion, sexual orientation, or veteran or military status.
Similarly, depending on the circumstances it can be illegal for your employer to terminate your employment in retaliation for objecting to a violation of the law, because you took a leave under the Family & Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), or because you asserted a claim under a state or federal wage and hour law. You also could have a discrimination claim if you were forced to quit because your employer refused to provide you a reasonable accommodation for your physical or mental disability, or for your religious beliefs.
In addition, if you work for the local, state or federal government, you have additional protections from being fired in violation of your Constitutional rights, such as your First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Likewise, if you own stock in a closely held corporation and the company fired you or otherwise forced you out, you might have a legal claim as an oppressed shareholder.
In some situations, you can have a claim for wrongful discharge if you were forced to resign. More specifically, if you were severely harassed or your legal rights were otherwise violated in a way that would cause a reasonable person to feel they had no choice but to resign, then you may have a constructive discharge claim.
What Should I Do if I was Fired Unfairly?
There are many different laws that limit the reasons why a company in New Jersey, New York State or New York City can fire you. If you have been fired without any good reason, you should consider meeting with an experienced employment law attorney to discuss whether you have a wrongful termination claim. Even if you do not have a legal claim, an employment lawyer might be able to help you in other ways, like explaining or improving your severance package or helping you understand your obligations under a non-compete or non-solicitation agreement.
For more information about wrongful termination or another adverse employment action, or to schedule a consultation to discuss your wrongful termination claim or another employment law problem with one of our attorneys, please feel free to contact us online or call us at (973) 744-4000.