In the majority of states unless you have a specific contract saying otherwise you will almost never have a case for wrongful termination. In many cases in fact an employer will as part of the preliminary paperwork define your employment as “at will” meaning you can quit whenever you want and they can fire you whenever they want. So what would you need an employment lawyer and how can you know if in your instance, you have a case?
Why Look for an Employment Lawyer?
There are a few instances where an attorney might be able to lend a hand if you feel you’re being treated unfairly at work. Let’s look at a few:
Most employment laws come at you with barrage of deadlines that can be both confusing and overwhelming. You’ll be required to follow these for filing suit and if you try to go it alone they’re very easy to miss. Speaking to an attorney is probably your best bet to prevent this from happening.
When Claims get Confusing
The many and complicated employment laws can not only overwhelm but also confuse you if you’re not studied up. There might even be a number of laws and loopholes you don’t even know exist. If you have a gut feeling that you were terminated unfairly or some kind of unethical or unlawful practice happened at work, it’s always best to consult a lawyer to know for sure.
To Show You’re Serious
In most cases unless you have legal representation your employment will have no reason to take you seriously and your issue will easily be brushed aside.
When direct confrontation Isn’t for you
Many people are uncomfortable with confrontations and unfortunately this is almost always going to be part of the process when you’re negotiating the terms of your employment or the included severance package. It’s always good to have someone to fight on your behalf if this is the case. Chances are your employer isn’t going to be as uncomfortable so this could cause an unfair advantage.
When is it Absolutely Needed?
If any of these situations become a reality you should contact an attorney ASAP:
Your employer threatens to sue you.
You’ve been asked to sign on to terms you don’t completely understand, especially if it seems incomplete or if it relates to confidentiality, arbitration, or other employment terms.
You’ve been accused of a crime, though in this case you’re better off pursuing a criminal defense attorney rather than an employment lawyer.
When is a Lawyer “Nice to Have”
You might want to have a lawyer even if it’s not urgent, but if any of the following situations arise
If you think an employer (current or former) has violated any employment laws.
You saw retaliation after filing a workplace grievance, especially as it relates to discrimination or harassment or an employer legal violation.
If you’re not being paid fairly and as agreed upon when hired.
If you’ve falsely fallen into the classification as a contractor or some that does not qualify for overtime.
When is an attorney NOT needed
Hiring a lawyer is probably an unnecessary step if:
You need to file a complaint or grievance with your HR department and all policy is followed by you in the process.
When you must attend a disciplinary meeting, but DO take careful and don’t sign anything other than an acknowledgment form as “receipt only” and ALWAYS read before signing.
When signing simple and comprehensive documents you have no problem understanding.
When filing a union grievance if you’re in a union, that’s what your union reps are for.
So do You have a Case
Below is a checklist that will help you determine if you could be eligible and have a case in court. You’ll of course want to contact an employment lawyer if the situations apply to be sure.
Termination, demotion, or suspension without pay:
To start did any of the below occur shortly before the said disciplinary action?
You filed a workman’s compensation form.
Reported or refused to conform to illegal practices of discrimination in the company.
You recently underwent surgery and/or revealed a previous unknown medical condition or pregnancy.
Your employer falsely stated something as a fact about to someone outside the company including future potential employers.
You recently performed jury duty.
You recently served in the armed forces.
You recently took family or medical leave.
You recently testified in court or provided evidence for a lawsuit or to EEOC.
You recently participared in activities that benefited coworkers as it applied to terms of employment.
Your employer failed to compensate you as agreedfor all hours or worked or failed to pay overtime benefits you deserved.
Unfortunately you can’t sue someone for discriminating against you as an individual. If you feel you have been discriminated against the law will provide for and describe discrimination as having to do with:
ethnicity or national origin
Retalation for objecting to discrimination
The first question you will have to ask is if your employer has 15 or less employees, as many of these laws unfortunately won’t allow for the same standards to be applied to smaller businesses. If, however, you can compare your treatment to those of different circumstance (your race, etc) and find that your treatment was different you may have a case. You should also make sure that it wasn’t a different case for someone who had the same circumstance as you. Some states and localities also have provisions that expand discrimination laws to also apply to other circumstance such as marital status or sexual orientation. Didn’t see your Case?
Unfortunately there are instances where employees can be convinced that their employees broke the law, but sadly didn’t. You’ll be surprised to find that in some cases the law offers no provisions for the following:
Breaks: There is no federal law that requires any breaks at all. That’s right not even a lunch break. Some states have these requirements in place, but not near as many as you’d think, not even the majority.
Workplace harassment and Hostile Environment: Harassment is only illegal is if it relates to the discrimination of protect groups (age, race, sex, etc.) but in general harassment, bullying and hostility, while against most corporate policy, is not at illegal or against any laws.
Freedom of Speech: While protected in your personal life under the 1st amendment, you have no freedom of speech at work, not legally. There are some protections in place for government workers but even those are few and far between.
Privacy: Work email and internet usage are completely fair game, your employers can spy all they want. There are some light restrictions on monitoring phone calls and of course medical information is somewhat protected. There is not even a federal law against publicly display your social security number at work and only two states offer some limited protection against it.
Right to work: Not all states are right to work, but some are. Right to work does NOT mean that an employer can’t make you sign a non-compete agreement and it does not mean they can’t restrict your right to work for competitors while in employment with them. All it means is that they can’t force you to join a union as part of your employment. Don’t listen to any employer that tries to tell you that non-compete agreements are useless or unenforced.
Retaliation: No laws prohibit retaliation from an employer if you report or object to either policy violations, ethics violations, bullying, hostile work environments or anything other than discrimination and/or illegal practices.
If you are convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt, or are even just in question on whether you have a case or not (even after reading this and doing your homework) the best thing you can do is contact a local employment lawyer and see what they can do for you.