Wrongful Termination: 5 Illegal Reasons to Fire Someone

By Eric Giordano posted 04-27-2021 12:23 PM


Employers may fire employees for illegal reasons and this is considered wrongful termination. Although many employees who have been fired may feel their termination was unfair, there are federal and state laws that determine which reasons for firing an employee are illegal. 

For instance, in a state that allows “at-will” termination (where an employer can fire an employee for any non-legal reasons), it may be legal to fire an employee for poor performance, but illegal to fire an employee based on a disability. 

1. Discrimination

Many wrongful dismissal claims occur when employees are fired, or believe they have been fired, for an illegal discriminatory reason. Various federal and state laws make it illegal to discriminate against an employee or fire the employee based on a number of protected categories. 

These categories include race, color, sex, religion, gender, age, disability, and national origin. Wrongful termination claims based on discrimination can be hard to win but Pittsburgh employment lawyers from the Lacy Employment Labor Law firm can help employees to decide whether a case is worth pursuing. 

2. Retaliation

A common reason for a wrongful dismissal case is when an employer retaliates against an employee for a protected activity. An employee may file a complaint about sexual harassment by a supervisor, underpayment of wages, or a potential safety violation. These complaints are all protected by the law and an employer cannot fire an employee in retaliation for making them. 

For instance, employees have a right to a safe work environment. If a workplace violates health and safety regulations as mandated by OSHA, an employee has the right to report an employer and the employer cannot terminate an employee for doing so. 

3. Employment contract violations

An employment contract limits the ability of an employer to fire an employer. It is illegal for an employer to fire an employee if the reason for the termination goes against what stands in an employment contract. 

An implied contract can be as binding as a written contract. If a court thinks a promise of job security carries enough weight and that the employee has relied on that promise, it may view a promise as a contract.

A written employment contract may detail valid reasons for termination or it may simply state that an employee can only be terminated for good cause. Good cause may be things like poor performance, habitual lateness, excessive absence from work or a refusal to follow instructions. 

4. Committing illegal acts

Employees reporting employers for committing illegal acts need to have the facts. They need to know facts like what laws are possibly being violated and what statutes apply to the business. In most states, it is illegal to fire an employee for refusing to be complicit in breaking a law or reporting an employer for breaking a law. 

An example of this could be an employer asking an employee to alter an accounting ledger. Life can be made very difficult in the workplace for an employee who reports an employer for a reason that’s legally protected, such as sexual discrimination or financial fraud. 

5. Wrongful constructive dismissal

An employer can manipulate the work environment in such a way that it renders the continuation of the employment relationship intolerable for the employee. The employee may feel there is no other option left but to quit. The employer may change the terms of employment without notice, demote an employee or cut pay without a valid reason. 

In a constructive dismissal case, the employee has to prove that the employer created a hostile work environment and that there was no other way to address the situation than to quit.