Many people believe that because Michigan is an “at-will” work state that employers do not need a specific reason to terminate employment and can fire an employee for any reason at all. However, there are exceptions where an employee may file a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Understanding the various circumstances in which you can take legal action to protect your rights is imperative. As an employee, you should learn how to recognize these conditions, so that if you are ever wrongfully terminated, you can take legal action against your employer.

Understanding Wrongful Termination Nuances

In the realm of employment law, wrongful termination is a serious matter that can have profound repercussions for both employers and employees. Understanding the nuances of wrongful termination is crucial for safeguarding your rights as an employee and seeking appropriate recourse if you believe you have been unjustly dismissed from your job.

Discriminatory Firing is Illegal

If an employer attempts to terminate an employee based on a discriminatory reason, it may be considered wrongful termination.

For instance, it is illegal to fire an employee based on their:

  • Race
  • Skin color
  • Sex
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Age

These statuses are all federally protected, which means even in an at-will employment state, employers cannot fire someone for these reasons.

Breaking Employment Contracts is Illegal

When an employer and employee have a written contract and termination would violate the terms of said contract—for example, if the employment was supposed to last until a certain date—it may be considered wrongful termination. It must be determined if the attempt to fire the employee was considered a violation of the contract terms.

Not all contracts have to be written, either. There are situations where oral promises were made regarding length of employment. If the employer promises to not terminate employment for a specific length of time, then breaks that oral promise, the employee may have a right to a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Implied contracts may also be considered, such as when employers break terms set forth in an employee handbook.

Retaliatory Firing is Illegal

Employees have a right to report any safety violations that threaten their health. If an employer attempts to fire an employee for reporting an injury-causing incident or health violation, it can be considered wrongful termination and the employee may have a right to file a claim.

Constructive Discharge

Constructive discharge occurs when an employer creates intolerable working conditions that compel an employee to resign involuntarily. This can include situations where an employer subjects an employee to harassment, discrimination, or retaliation, making the work environment inhospitable.

Examples of constructive discharge may involve:

  • Persistent harassment based on protected characteristics such as race, gender, or religion
  • Retaliatory actions following the employee’s assertion of legal rights, such as filing a workers’ compensation claim.

In such cases, resigning from the position can be considered a form of wrongful termination, as the employee was effectively forced out of their job due to the employer’s actions.

Other Exceptions to At-Will Employment

At-will employment is a foundational principle in many jurisdictions, allowing employers to terminate employees for any reason or no reason at all, provided it’s not discriminatory or retaliatory. However, there are important exceptions to this rule, particularly when terminations violate public policy.

For instance, if an employer fires an employee for refusing to engage in an illegal activity or for fulfilling a legal obligation, such as reporting workplace safety violations or participating in a lawful investigation, it can constitute wrongful termination. These actions violate public policy and are not protected under at-will employment.

Proving Wrongful Termination and Seeking Compensation

Proving wrongful termination requires gathering sufficient evidence to substantiate the claim. Employees should collect documentation such as emails, performance reviews, employment contracts, and witness statements that support their allegations of wrongful conduct by the employer.

In a wrongful termination lawsuit, potential outcomes may include:

  1. Reinstatement: If the court determines that the termination was wrongful, the employee may be reinstated to their former position or a comparable position within the company.
  2. Back Pay: Employees may be entitled to back pay for the wages they lost as a result of the wrongful termination, including any benefits or bonuses they would have received.
  3. Front Pay: In cases where reinstatement is not feasible or desirable, front pay may be awarded to compensate the employee for future lost earnings.
  4. Punitive Damages: In egregious cases involving willful misconduct or negligence on the part of the employer, punitive damages may be awarded to deter similar behavior in the future and punish the employer for their actions.

Working through the complexities of wrongful termination claims can be daunting, but with the right legal guidance and evidence, employees can assert their rights and seek justice and compensation for unjust treatment in the workplace. By understanding the exceptions to at-will employment, recognizing the signs of constructive discharge, and diligently gathering evidence, employees can strengthen their case and pursue fair compensation for the harm caused by wrongful termination.

Get a Wrongful Termination Claim Started with Fieger Law

Former employees can file a wrongful termination claim through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission once they have gathered relevant materials as proof. A claim can be submitted on the EEOC’s website by contacting them over the phone or by visiting the local EEOC office.

If you believe you were wrongfully and illegally terminated, contact Fieger Law today for a free case consultation. We can help you determine the strength of your case, and your best path forward for compensation.

Originally published July 9, 2019.