Wrongful Termination: Is Firing Someone For Wrongful Discharge a Public Policy Violation?
Wrongful termination suits arise fairly frequently in the workplace. Most wrongful termination cases, however, are settled outside of court, with defendants agreeing to make various kinds of changes to their employment practices, usually to avoid lawsuits. Some wrongful termination suits, though, are successful, and many others result in hefty fines or penalties for the defendant’s employers.
A common example of a wrongful termination
case results from an employee’s firing for engaging in an illegal act at work. In such cases, if the employee has a reasonable cause for believing that he or she was being fired for engaging in illegal conduct, then the employee may have a case. In most cases, the employee would have a legal right to compensation for this reason. However, even if the employer can successfully argue that the act in question did not occur as a direct result of the employee’s illegal activity, the employer may still be liable for punitive damages if it goes to court.
In another common example of a wrongful termination suit,
an employer tries to prevent their employees from filing suit by pointing out that they would lose most of their potential earnings if they sued. This argument may be legitimate in some cases, especially where the employer offers a life insurance policy that would cover some (but not all) of the cost of a suit. But the point is that a large sum of money could be lost over time if the employee should sue, perhaps due to medical bills that resulted from being fired illegally. So even if the employer points out that they would lose a percentage of their profits when you file suit, if you lose your case and receive damages, then you may be losing a lot more than you expected.
Another argument employed by many employers
when it comes to defending themselves against lawsuits of this type is that they must exercise strictures against discrimination and harassment. There are several employment laws in place that aim to discourage this kind of activity. However, these laws tend to fail when it comes to dealing with situations where an employer has engaged in wrongful termination behavior, or a supervisor has retaliated against an employee for complaining about such behavior.
Employers will often claim
that they only hire workers based on their merits, without regard to other factors. However, courts have always been reluctant to see merit as a reason for discriminating or firing an employee. If there is a racial or ethnic element to a job applicant’s application, chances are that the hiring decision was made based on race alone. Similarly, if there has been sexual harassment at any point during the interviewing process, there is a good chance that the employer was thinking about how it would affect the employee’s ability to do their job when the discriminatory behavior became public. Employers also often cite a myriad of reasons for terminating employees and often do so just before an employee has received the required notice of their right to a hearing as part of their employment contract.
A third common justification
for wrongful termination includes a worker who was fired for exercising their rights under the public policy of the employer. As aforementioned, two different theories govern this scenario. In one case, an employee has been illegally discriminated against based on their gender, regardless of whether they have ever filed a complaint or are even guilty of such conduct. The second scenario involves a complaint of discrimination for reasons that are not related to genders, such as complaints about being harassed based on religion, race, age, or some other trait. In both instances, an employee would be entitled to a hearing under the public policy of the employer.