Most states allow an employer to hire its employees "at-will." Essentially, this means the company can fire you or lay you off at any time and without notice. Even worse, your employer can let you go for any legal reason. If you are not given time to retrieve your personal belongings, your former employer must either send them to you or schedule a time and place for them to be picked up.
There are, however, a number of federal and state laws that protect workers from termination in certain circumstances.
A Contract May Keep You From Termination
If you have an employment contract, you are not an "at-will" employee. In many cases, employment contracts guarantee your employment for a minimum length of time. In some states, the contract doesn't even need to be in writing.
When your employer ends your employment early and doesn't compensate you for violating the contract, you can sue the company to enforce the contract.
You Can't Be Fired for Discriminatory Reasons
Employees are protected under federal law from being fired because of discrimination. It is illegal for your employer to end your employment because of your disability, ethnicity, skin color, religion, gender, pregnancy, or age if you're 40 or older.
Regardless of whether your employer actually discriminated against you, it's also illegal for the company to fire you in retaliation for you making a discrimination complaint to human resources, your supervisor, a lawyer, or a government agency.
Your Job Is Secure When You Report Employer Violations
Most employees may hesitate to report violations of public safety or financial regulations at their employer for fear of being fired if their employer finds out. However, a number of whistleblower laws protect your job when you come forward with incriminating information about your employer.
Wrongful Terminations Can Cost Employers Money
Legal protections may not prevent your employer from illegally firing you. If this happens, you'll need to take legal action immediately to ensure you get compensated.
The amount you may receive will depend on your specific circumstances, but possible awards include:
- Reinstatement at your old job
- Payment for the salary you lost while unemployed
- Compensation for any emotional or physical injuries
- Reimbursement for medical and legal expenses
- Punitive damages, which are amounts a court can award as a way of punishing your employer for illegal behavior
An Employment Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding the loss of your job 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.