Wrongful Discharge

At-will's Big Exception

Under the employment at-will doctrine, an employer can discharge employees for any reason, even bad reasons, except for unlawful reasons.   Wrongful discharges are those exceptions. When terminations violate the rights of employees, they are wrongful. 

Why Wrongful Discharge Matters

When Discharges go Wrong

Courts can remedy the harm caused by a discharge if the employee proves the dishcarge violated his or her rights. Remedies can include payment for lost wages and benefits, as well as for emotional pain and suffering. But if employees cannot prove that their discharge violated their rights, courts have no power to remedy the harm.  

Discharges that Violate Employee Rights

Discharges can violate the rights of employees if they:

  • are motivated  by unlawful reasons, like discrimination or retaliation;
  • violate a contractual right of the employee; or
  • jeopardize established public policies. 

A discharges jeopardizes established public policy of a state when, for example, the state has a policy requiring citizens to serve on a jury when called, and an employer fires an employee for missing work due to jury service.  

MEL discusses unlawful discharges in greater detail under the topics of Contracts, Discrimination, FMLA, HarassmentRetaliation and Public Policy Discharges

Discharges can be Wrong but not Unlawful

If the word "wrong" means the opposite of "right," then some wrong discharges, even though wrong, do not violate employees' rights. For example, until 1964, it was wrong, but not unlawful, for employers in most states to discriminate against employees based on faith, gender or race. Even now it is wrong, but arguably not unlawful, for private employers to discriminate on such grounds in the state of Ohio, as long as they have three or fewer employeesSee Leininger v. Pioneer Nat'l Latex, 115 Ohio St. 3d 311 (Ohio 2007), discussed here

The difference between Wrongful Discharge and Constructive Discharges

Legally speaking, a wrongful discharge is a discharge that violates the rights of an employee. This implies that an employer made the decision to discharge the employee.

Constructive discharge describes a decision made by an employee to quit or resign from employment. A freely made, voluntary quit is usually not a wrongful discharge because it is not a discharge.  The employee resigned. However, the law can treat an otherwise voluntary quit as a discharge if the employer created working conditions so intolerable that a reasonable employee would feel compelled to quit under those circumstances, especially if the employer intended for the employee to quit. The legal significance of a consturctive discharge, then, is that the separation from employment is treated a discharge by the court, and not a voluntary quit. 

Employer actions that can result in constructive disharges may include cut hours, transfers to undesirable shifts or locations or a campaign of harassment aimed at getting the employee to resign. 

Once an employee proves a constructive discharge, it is still just a discharge. Like any other wrongful discharge, employees who were forced to quit must still prove that their employer violated their rights by forcing them to quit.

Articles (72)

Wrongful Discharge - Terminations that Violate Public Policy
Technically speaking, courts do not recognize a claim for "wrongful discharge," at least by that name. Broadly speaking, any discharge that violates a law, causes great harm or is grossly unfair is "w... applies to All States

Florida wrongful discharge law
Florida law does not recognize a “wrongful termination” or "wrongful discharge" claim, at least by that name. Florida is an at-will state, which means that an employer may fire, demote, hire, prom... applies to Florida

Right to Vote without Employer Interference or Threat of Discharge
Ohio's Right to Vote law states: No employer, his officer or agent, shall discharge or threaten to discharge an elector for taking a reasonable amount of time to vote on election day; or require or or... applies to Ohio

Time off to Vote
Most state's laws require employers to give employees time off to vote. These laws vary among states, particularly with respect to the following: Whether the time off is paid or not; Whether the emplo... applies to All States

Overview of the Constructive Discharge Doctrine
A constructive discharge describes an employee's decision to resign because the employer made the terms and conditions of employment so miserable that reasonable people would resign. Under those circu... applies to All States

Questions and Answers (551)

After being part of my son unemployment case. The retailition started I was wrote up after he filed appeal. Call the EEOC they said I should try sending a letter to owner did on 07/09/2015 I was discharge 07/10/2015 the next day. I have witness to the ret
I was wrongful discharge retailition got to move by 7/24/2015 applies to Mississippi  ·  1 answer

Wrongful discharge Lawyer
Could I have lists of Lawyers in Wenatchee,WA applies to Washington  ·  1 answer

Wrongful termination declared by unemployment office should I seek further legal action?
I was recently terminated from my employer for reasons that I felt were not justifiable, so I claimed unemployment and after hearing my case the unemloyment office ruled in my favor stating exactly th... applies to Ohio  ·  1 answer

terminated after 90 probation period and was told by Manager he didn't know why I was terminated
spoke to the HR manager she said he knew, I said I was wrongful discharged and i wanted to know why? I believe I was discharge for retaliation and age. Can I sue them. applies to Georgia  ·  0 answers

My boss bullied me into resigning. Is this constructive discharge or wrongful termination?
Six weeks ago I made the mistake of going into my boss's office when I was upset about a perceived miscommunication (she always gave the impression that her staff was welcome to do so) and made the ev... applies to Ohio  ·  2 answers

Lawyer Matches (74)

Adams, William
Focusing primarily in the areas of wrongful discharge, discimination, whistle-blower claims.
Morgantown, West Virginia

Graber, Brian
Chicago Employment Law
Chicago, Illinois

Wibbels, Joseph
Fighting for Employee Rights
Louisville, Kentucky

McKinney, Thomas
Experienced NJ Employment Lawyers focusing on Discrimination, Harassment, Overtime & Severance
Morristown, New Jersey

Klingler, Robert A.
Cincinnati Employement Attorney
Cincinnati, Ohio

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