Wrongful Termination: What It Isn’t

In most states, “Wrongful Termination” is about as illegal as “Wrongful Romantic Breakup” – meaning: it isn’t.

When you’ve been dating someone or fallen head over heels, you may not want that other person to break up with you….  but it doesn’t mean that it’s illegal for them to break up with you.

Many employees think that if they do what they are supposed to do, don’t break any rules, show up on time, all that good stuff, then they can’t be fired. Or if they are fired, that this means they’ve been “wrongfully terminated.” Well sure, maybe it is “wrong” – in the moral sense. But unless there are some other factors at play, it may not be illegal.

In this country, you’re not entitled to keep your job. Most if not all states have rules about something they call “at will” employment.This means that unless you’re subject to some specific circumstances like you have an employment contract promising the company will keep you on for a certain period of time or something like that, chances are they can get rid of you whenever they want. (In good news though, it goes both ways — if you hate your job, you can leave it “at will,” too!)

That’s not to say that no terminations are illegal. Many are. Sometimes when it seems wrong, it actually is illegal. In the US, there are laws against discrimination of various kinds. It is also illegal to fire someone who has made a complaint about their overtime or other wage issues. In some specific kinds of cases it’s illegal for a company to fire someone for being a “whistleblower”. There has to be a specific law that’s being broken for it to be illegal, but not everyone knows when something is illegal vs. just plain “not right.”

We’re not saying all this to get you down. We are workers’ rights lawyers serving workers in New York, Colorado, and Georgia. We want employees to understand what their rights are – and what they aren’t. Knowledge is power. We wouldn’t want to waste your time, or get your hopes up unnecessarily.

So, here is one thing that goes on all the time, and is completely, 100% illegal: A company not paying you the wages the law says you’re entitled to be paid. So, even if your termination turns out to be “legal”, this might be the perfect time to take a minute and ask whether something about how you were paid at that job may have been illegal. Or maybe the job before this job. In New York you can go back as far as 6 years; in Colorado, it’s up to 3 years; other states have different durations. You’d be surprised just how many different ways employers mess up.  If you’d like us to take a look, get in touch.

Written by Penn Dodson