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 (32)

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

Ohio Public Policy exception to At-will Employment
In Greeley v. Miami Valley Maint. Contractors , 49 Ohio St. 3d 228 (Ohio 1990), the Ohio Supreme Court held that "[p]ublic policy warrants an exception to the employment-at-will doctrine when an emplo... applies to Ohio

Whistleblower Protection for Safety Complaints in Ohio
Ohio Employees can make legally protected complaints about unsafe work conditions to their employers and to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA). OSHA specifically prohibits employ... applies to Ohio

Tired Truckers: How the Tracy Morgan Crash is a Sign of a Bigger Problem
Driving while tired can be just as dangerous as driving while intoxicated, and in an industry that pushes the limits on production, tired truck drivers are often the result. The recent tractor trailer... applies to North Carolina

Massachusetts Wage Payment Act requires Payment of Earned Wages at the time of Discharge
The Massachusetts Payment of Wages Act defines “wages” to include “any holiday or vacation payments due an employee under an oral or written agreement.” The Wage Act requires employers to pay ... applies to Massachusetts

Massachusetts Employers must pay Accrued but Unused Vacation at the time of Discharge
The Massachusetts Payment of Wages Act defines “wages” to include “any holiday or vacation payments due an employee under an oral or written agreement.” The Wage Act requires employers to pay ... applies to Massachusetts

At-will employment in Ohio
Unless otherwise agreed, either party to an oral employment-at-will agreement may terminate the employment relationship for any reason which is not contrary to law. Mers v. Dispatch Printing Co., 19 O... applies to Ohio

Florida Whistleblower's Act Protects Employees of the Government and Companies that Contract with Florida Governments
The Florida legislature enacted the Florida whistleblower's Act, Fl. Stat. 112.3187 in 1986 to prevent state and local government agencies ("Agencies,") and the companies that contract with Agencies (... applies to Florida

Family and Care Giver Discrimination, Harassment and Discharge
Family responsibility discrimination is an emerging area of discrimination law. Although no specific law designates a family care giver as a protected class, a number of laws protect people with famil... applies to Florida

Implied Contract exception to Employment at-Will
In general, under the employment-at-will doctrine, the employment relationship between employer and employee is terminable at the will of either. See At-will Employment . Even so, some state supreme c... applies to All States

Implied Contract exception to Employment at-will
In general, under the employment-at-will doctrine, the employment relationship between employer and employee is terminable at the will of either. See At-will Employment . In Mers v. Dispatch Printing ... applies to Ohio

Promissory estoppel exception to at-will employment
In general, under the employment-at-will doctrine, the employment relationship between employer and employee is terminable at the will of either. See At-will Employment . In Mers v. Dispatch Printing ... applies to Ohio

Tortious Interference Involving Non-Competition Agreements
In most states, a third party cannot interfere with the contractual or prospective business relationships between two other parties, absent a proper purpose. This claim is known as “tortious interfe... applies to All States

Evidence in Discrimination Cases
Discrimination cases turn on the employer's motive for taking an employment action, like failing to hire or firing an employee. The employee must prove that the employer's bias against people in the e... applies to All States

Overview of American At-will Employment
American employment law is built on the foundation of at-will employment. Before any meaningful body of employment law existed, employment in America was at-will. Based in state contract law, at-will ... applies to All States

Defamation in the Illinois Workplace
Current and former employees are sometimes targets of false statements made in the workplace. Defamation is a tort action which allows the employee who was wronged (plaintiff) to recover for harm to h... applies to Illinois

Closing the Severance Pay Negotiation with Non-economic Terms
The amount of severance that an employer is willing to pay an employee, though usually the single most important item addressed in severance negotiations, is only one severance issue. Additional issue... applies to All States

Non-competition Agreements in Ohio - History and Law
History of non-competition agreements in Ohio As in other states, Ohio courts at one time viewed noncompetition agreements with some skepticism. Agreements in restraint of trade, including noncompetit... applies to Ohio

Rights of an Ohio Employee who is a Minority Shareholder
A special exception to employment at-will doctrine applies to employees who are minority shareholders of close corporations. In their case, majority shareholders cannot terminate their employment with... applies to Ohio

Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities. 42 USC 12101 et seq. A qualified individual with a disability is an individual with ... applies to All States

Cleveland Public Relations Firm Ordered to Pay a Million Dollars for Retaliation
A Cleveland jury ordered Dix & Eaton, a public relations firm, to pay over $1,000,000 for retaliating against a 59 year old executive who complained to Human Resources that her boss was setting he... applies to Ohio

Burden of Proof in Age Discrimination cases after Gross v. FBL Financial Services
Last month's U.S. Supreme Court decision, Gross v. FBL Financial Services changed the burden of proof on age discrimination victims. Previously, courts required age discrimination victims to prove tha... applies to All States

MR. AZADIAN ACHIEVES GROUNDBREAKING $9,957,411.17 WIN IN WRONGFUL TERMINATION CASE
Mr. Azadian first chaired and secured a Final Arbitration Award of $9,957,411.17 in the matter entitled, Dr. Eleftherios (Stephen) Vamvakas, M.D., Ph.D., MPH, MPhil v. Consultants For Pathology And La... applies to California

FRONTINO V. MACY’S: AZADIAN LAW GROUP WINS $669,308 FOR EMPLOYEE AGAINST MACY’S FOR RETALIATION AND WRONGFUL TERMINATION
Mr. Azadian started off 2016 with a $669,308 win against retail-giant Macy’s in a retaliation and wrongful termination lawsuit where his client was terminated after making complaints that he was... applies to California

When Your FMLA Leave Expires in California
One of the more common mistakes that employers make with regard to employees' medical leave and disability rights under ADA and FEHA is assuming that just because an employee's FMLA or CFRA leave has ... applies to California

How to Hire a Competitor's Employees
Suppose an employee from a competitor applied for an open position with your firm. She did not take any trade secrets from the competitor and will not solicit her the competitor's customers. However, ... applies to All States

Should you complain about discrimination/harassment to your human resources department?
Many employees who are subjected to discrimination or harassment by their co-workers or supervisors believe that they are better off not speaking up and tolerating the potentially unlawful conduct to ... applies to California

GEORGE AZADIAN & ANI AZADIAN RECOGNIZED AS 2016 “RISING STARS” BY SUPER LAWYERS
George Azadian and Ani Azadian were recognized as 2016 “Rising Stars” by Super Lawyers Magazine. Super Lawyers selects attorneys who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and per... applies to California

Have an Employment Law question?

Virginia Employment Lawyers

Gerald Lutkenhaus Gerald Lutkenhaus
Virginia Workers Compensation & Disability Lawyer
Richmond, VA
Sheri Abrams Sheri Abrams
Sheri R. Abrams PLLC
Oakton, VA
Edward Lowry Edward Lowry
MichieHamlett
Charlottesville, VA
Matthew Sutter Matthew Sutter
Wade, Friedman & Sutter, P.C.
Alexandria, VA

more Virginia Employment Lawyers