Wrongful termination: Frequently asked questions

Even at-will employees have certain rights and protections against illegal job loss.

Job loss can be devastating to an employee and his or her family no matter what the circumstances. When the reason seems unjust it may be difficult to know where to turn or what legal options are available. State and federal laws protect employees from being illegally discharged from employment. It is important to first understand what it means to be wrongfully discharged to help determine if you may have a claim. This article aims to answer some common questions related to wrongful termination.

Wrongful termination FAQs

What does at-will employment mean?

At-will employment means that an employer can fire or terminate an employee at any time or for any reason. Unless the termination would be discriminatory, a breach of contract or violate public policy. The employer does not have to provide notice of termination to an at-will employee.

If an employee has an employment contract or agreement (written or oral) an employer may be in breach of contract for termination even if it is for a good reason if it violates the terms of the contract. This includes a union contract or collective bargaining agreement.

What is discrimination based termination?

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ( LAD) makes it unlawful to treat an employee differently (including termination) based on the following:

  • Race
  • Religion or creed
  • Ancestry, national origin, nationality or color
  • Age
  • Gender, gender identity or expression
  • Sexual orientation
  • Disability (mental, physical or perceived)
  • Military service
  • Marital status (including domestic partnership or civil union)
  • Genetic information or atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait

In addition to the above, an employer may not terminate an employee for taking protected leave, such as FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) or NJFLA (New Jersey Family Leave Act) leave.

What is constructive discharge?

If an employee was suffering from sexual harassment or discrimination in the workplace and the employer fails or refuses to correct the behavior, the employee may have a claim for construction discharge if he or she felt forced to quit the job as a result. Even though the employee quit the job, it can still be considered a discharge due to the circumstances in which the employee was forced to work.

Can a whistleblower be fired?

An employee cannot be fired for taking part in a protected activity, which includes participating in an investigation of the employer for an illegal activity or reporting an illegal activity. This would be retaliatory termination. In addition, an employee cannot be discharged for filing a lawsuit against an employer for discrimination, harassment or a workers' compensation claim. An employee cannot be fired for refusing to participate in an illegal activity as well.

If wrongfully terminated, does an employee have legal rights?

If an employee was discharged from his or her job due to engaging in protected conduct or being a member of a protected class, it may have been wrongful termination. The employee may have a cause of action against the former employer. There are several avenues available to pursue for wrongful termination, including filing a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Division of Civil Rights (DCR). A wrongfully discharged employee may also be entitled to compensation for lost wages, lost benefits, punitive damages, attorneys' fees and costs or reinstatement.

If you feel you were wrongfully discharged from your job by your employer, call 973-542-2766 and speak to an attorney knowledgeable in employment matters. At Piro Zinna Cifelli Paris & Genitempo, LLC. we are committed to providing honest legal advice based on the circumstances of your case. We will discuss what occurred, answer your questions and help you determine the best course of action based on your situation.