Unless you have an employment contract, it's likely that you're an "at-will" employee. This means you can be terminated at any time and for most reasons. However, these reasons cannot be discriminatory. When an employer fires you for discriminatory reasons, it is considered a wrongful termination. In this situation, the federal government provides you with significant legal protections.
Illegal Discrimination Takes Many Forms
Many forms of discrimination can lead to a wrongful, or illegal, termination. Federal law prohibits your employer from considering your race, skin color, religious beliefs, gender, national origin, disability, or age (if you're at least 40 years old) when making the decision to terminate your employment. Although being terminated because of your sexual orientation isn't protected under the federal law, many state and local discrimination laws do protect gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered persons from wrongful terminations based on sexual orientation.
You Are Protected From Employer Retaliation
You are protected from discrimination at work. You are also protected in situations when you're terminated after making an accusation of discrimination or after filing a wrongful discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Even if your employment is terminated as part of a larger layoff, it can still be considered a wrongful termination if you're able to show that you were selected for discriminatory reasons.
Federal Employees May Receive More Protection
Employees of a federal government agency receive the same rights as those who work for private employers. In addition, other federal regulations protect government employees from terminations based on discrimination because of a person's sexual orientation, political affiliations, parental status, and marital status.
An EEOC Claim or Court Award Can Be Substantial
If you don't work for the federal government, you must file an employment discrimination complaint with the EEOC. The EEOC will investigate your claim. If it agrees that you were wrongfully terminated, the agency will try to reach a settlement with your employer, which may include reinstatement, payment of lost wages, and additional compensation for your suffering and to penalize your employer. Aside from your lost wages, the maximum amount of damages you can be awarded for a wrongful termination claim is between $50,000 and $300,000. The amount depends on the number of employees at the offending company. If the EEOC is unsuccessful, you can sue your employer in court.
An Employment Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding wrongful termination claims is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact an employment lawyer.