Wrongful termination can be alleged when an employee has reason to believe that he or she was unlawfully fired. Wrongful termination claims can be won when the plaintiff adequately demonstrates that the employer fired them in violation of state or federal law.
As straightforward as that explanation may seem, it’s not always easy to determine if a specific instance of termination amounts to wrongful termination – especially if you were the employee who was fired.
There are a lot of misconceptions people hold about wrongful termination that can hinder their willingness to seek legal assistance. Understanding these misconceptions and why they’re incorrect, however, may help you determine whether or not you should reach out to an attorney. Read on below as we explain three things people get wrong about wrongful termination.
1. A Reason You Disagree with Amounts to Wrongful Termination
A misunderstanding of what “wrongful” means in a legal context accounts for a lot of confusion about what wrongful termination is really all about. If you were fired for a reason that you think is ludicrous or weren’t given a reason at all, no one could fault you for thinking this sounds like grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit. However, your employer may have acted well within his or her rights if you were employed at-will.
At-will employment is a legal doctrine adopted by many private employers throughout West Virginia. If you are employed at all, it means that your employer can fire you for any reason or no reason at all – as long as the termination doesn’t violate state or federal law.
A firing that might be unlawful is one where discrimination against a protected characteristic played a factor, or if the employer intended to retaliate against an employee for engaging in a protected workplace activity (such as asking for unpaid earned overtime pay). In either scenario, the employer would have likely broken the law by firing the employee.
2. It’s Impossible to Prove Retaliatory Termination
Many employees who believe they were fired out of retaliation may incorrectly assume that it’s impossible to prove or win their claim. While it can certainly be difficult to prove unlawful termination in such a case, it’s far from impossible.
This is because a civil lawsuit doesn’t necessarily require you to have the smoking gun, so to speak. People can prove their wrongful termination claims by merely convincing a judge or jury that it is more than 50 percent likely that they were fired as a result of wrongful termination. It’s still not easy to prove, especially when your employer pushes back against your claim, but you won’t necessarily have to produce “the smoking gun” to win.
It’s crucial to keep your own copies of communications and documents that support your claim. If you can demonstrate that your employer was inclined to threaten your employment for an unlawful reason in another situation, you may be able to increase your odds of success.
3: If You Quit, You Give Up Your Chance to Sue
Common sense would have you believe that you can’t sue for wrongful termination if you voluntarily quit, but this isn’t necessarily true. West Virginia recognizes constructive discharge, which is a situation in which an employer compels an employee to resign by making his or her work environment so intolerable that they have no other choice but to quit.
Your employer may have tried to force your resignation because you:
- Reported sexual harassment
- Reported discrimination
- Spoke up against illegal wage practices
- Filed a worker’s compensation claim
- Cited a breach in your employment agreement
A plaintiff making this claim will need to demonstrate the intolerability of the work environment. They will also need to prove that the employer was unable to simply fire them because it would have resulted in liability for wrongful termination.
In other words: It is unlawful for your employer to make your life at work a living nightmare if the objective is to force you to resign because simply firing you would result in liability for wrongful termination.
Do You Need an Attorney’s Help?
At Rod Smith Law PLLC, we’re here to help employees assert their rights after enduring mistreatment from their employers. If you believe you are a victim of wrongful termination, reach out to us today for a free consultation and learn more about what our attorney can do for you. We may be able to help you pursue fair and just compensation, including monetary damages.