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Workplace Fairness Weekly

Workplace Fairness Weekly (12/28/20)

Topic of the Week  Wrongful Termination

You may have heard the term “wrongful termination” in a lot of situations. However, only certain types of termination are classified as “wrongful” under the law. A wrongful termination requires that you be fired for an illegal reason. Illegal reasons could include violation of antidiscrimination laws, violation of whistleblower laws, or breach of contract for example. If your termination was not the result of a legal or contractual violation then you are likely employed at-will and may not have legal recourses for a termination that you consider unfair.

1. Can discrimination be considered wrongful termination?

Yes. Since discrimination on the basis of specific protected categories violates federal and/or state law, being terminated for that reason is being terminated for an illegal reason. If you can show that you were terminated based on your race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, pregnancy, or age (or other legally protected categories), your termination could be considered wrongful termination. Most states have their own enforcement mechanism for discrimination cases, and are therefore not brought as wrongful termination cases.

2. What is considered a written promise or an implied promise in an employment contract?

Although most employees in the private sector do not have employment contracts, some information that employers put in writing may qualify as a contract. A written contract or other document that promises job security at the time of employment may be considered a legally binding promise. A written contract with the terms outlining the methods of termination can also be enforceable.

Even promises not made in writing can sometimes be considered binding implied promises. Verbal promises or gestures that an employer has made may seem hopeless because they are hard to prove. However, implied contracts have been found where employers promised "permanent employment" or employment for a specific period of time, or where employers set forth specific forms of progressive discipline in an employee manual.

When determining whether an implied contract exists, the court may consider various factors such as: duration of employment; regularity of job promotions; history of positive performance reviews, and more.

3.What is breach of a good faith and fair dealing in an employment contract?

Some states permit unfairly terminated employees with employment contracts to bring a claim for a breach of the duty of “good faith and fair dealing” that is implied in all contracts. These acts may include anything from firing or transferring employees to prevent them from collecting sale commissions to coercing employees to quitting without collecting severance pay or other benefits. This is not often recognized as an exception to at-will employment, but might be applicable in your state.

Thought of the Week

"Fewer Americans sought unemployment benefits last week, but the modest drop did little to dispel concerns that the U.S. job market and wider economy face an arduous recovery from the devastation inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic in 2020."

–Dan Burns | Reuters

Weekly Comic by Jerry King

Weekly Comic by Jerry King

Blog of the Week

Top Five News Headlines

    List of the Week

    from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

    How many employed people were not at work during the reference week?

    • November, 5.0 million workers were classified as employed with a job but not at work
    • Of the 5.0 million employed people not at work during the survey reference week in November 2020, 1.8 million people were included in the “own illness, injury, or medical problems” category.
    • In November 2020, 1.3 million people were included in the “other reasons” category—one-fourth of the total 5.0 million employed people not at work during the survey reference week. 


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