Getting fired hurts. And it doesn’t just hurt your feelings! An unexpected termination can hurt your finances, your relationships, and your plans for the future. It doesn’t seem fair that someone can make a decision that makes such a mess of your life, does it?
As an employment attorney, I sit down with distraught or frustrated or bewildered people every day. Maybe they liked their former job and maybe they didn’t, but it wasn’t their choice to leave it. They were let go and they are not ready to “let it go.” They all want to know the same thing: can I sue for wrongful termination?
Well, it depends.
One of the hardest things for a labor law attorney to tell someone in this situation is that while it may be unfair, and wrong, or even just plain mean, that doesn’t make their dismissal illegal. An unlawful dismissal is the only kind I can take to court. And while “wrongful termination” seems to describe exactly what has happened to them, it is a precise legal term with specific conditions you must be able to meet—and prove.
Honestly, most firings in Maine are not a violation of employee rights. Maine, like most states, is an “at-will” employment state and at-will employment law is clear: your employer can fire you for any reason at all except an illegal or contractually protected one. That’s right—any reason. It can be stupid reason. It can be a silly reason. It just can’t be an illegal or contractually protected reason.
But some dismissals are illegal and in those cases, I can use unlawful termination laws to help people get the compensation they need—awards of damages, back pay, and more—to get their lives back on track.
So how can you tell if your firing was more than an unfair dismissal? When I meet with people and listen to their story about suspected wrongful discharge I focus on three things to clarify whether we can make a case for false termination:
- Did you sign an employment contract at your job before you were fired?
Employment contracts are common in some professions, like teaching, and much less common in others. An employment contract describes the terms of your employment (your job title, your responsibilities, the length of your employment and your compensation and benefits) and may protect you from “at-will” termination. If you signed an employment contract and were unexpectedly fired, you should share your employment contract with a skilled employee rights lawyer.
- Were you fired in retaliation for whistleblowing?
If you noticed that something was not right in your workplace—regulations being ignored, customers being cheated, laws being broken—and said something about it to management or the authorities only to be fired for your honesty, you may have a case for unfair termination. Employment law protects you from being fired in retaliation for these activities.
- Did you get fired because of your protected status?
When employment law talks about “protected status,” it keeps employers from discriminating against employees based on a very specific set of characteristics. Federal laws protect you from workplace harassment or termination based on your age, race, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy or disability. Can you prove you were fired because of your age? Because you were diagnosed with cancer and needed treatment? Because your boss didn’t think a girl could do the job as well as a man or because they object to your sexual preference? Did they demand you take off a headscarf or other item of religious apparel and fire you when you refused? Did a supervisor ask you on a date and fire you when you turned them down? Employment law considers all of these examples to be wrongful termination.
Not every bad experience at work is a violation of the employment laws and sometimes when you’ve had a difficult experience it’s hard to know. I am happy to listen to your experiences and talk to you about your options. Initial consultations are free and if we decide to move forward with your case,I won’t expect to be paid unless we resolve or win your case.
Call Sally Morris for a FREE consultation at 207.558.6161 ext. 109 today.