If you just lost your job, chances are good you’re in no mood to learn the meaning of legal jargon. However, it might benefit you — in a big way — to understand the laws that apply to your situation. If you believe you may have a reason to sue your former employer for wrongful termination, then we want to help. First, let’s look at the terms “right to work state” and “at-will” employment. Basically, these designations both mean you can get fired at any time for any reason that isn’t strictly illegal, such as workplace discrimination or retaliation.
Do I Live in a Right to Work State?
The following are right to work states and territories:
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
If you don’t see you state on this list, you are likely still in an “at-will employment” state. In these states, employers can fire employees without demonstrating just cause. This means that just like a right to work state, you can be fired for no reason at all.
When Can I Sue in a Right to Work or At-Will Employment State?
Even in at-will employment states, there some reasons why you can sue your former place of employment, such as:
- Workplace discrimination
- Reporting unpaid overtime or wage theft issues
- Reporting workplace safety violations to OSHA
- Requesting a leave of absence to deal with either a critically ill child or dying parent
- Filing a sexual harassment claim
What Is Workplace Discrimination?
Of course, workplace discrimination laws are in place even in right to work states. These laws hold that an employer cannot fire employees because of their race, gender, religion, disability status, age, or any other protected category.
So, if your company let you go because you’re pregnant, close to retirement age, you’re a caregiver or your marital status, you may have a valid wrongful termination case. State laws also protect employees from terminations due to sexual orientation or gender identity.
What is Retaliation?
If you file a claim due to harassment, wage theft or denial of medical leave, then your employer cannot fire you in retaliation. According to federal law, termination in cases such as these is illegal, including in right to work/at-will employment states. And if you’re a whistleblower, your boss also cannot fire you in retaliation.
Know Your Rights
Even in at-will employment states, you cannot be fired for exercising your rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act. This law provides for 12 workweeks of leave in a 12-month period to care for a loved one. Also, your employer cannot fire you for calling attention to violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and youth employment standards.
Finally, you can’t be fired in violation of other federal and state employment statutes, including local collective bargaining agreements or special protections for employees called to active military duty. A good rule of thumb is you can’t be fired for your off-duty conduct, as long as you don’t bring it into the workplace. These laws apply equally to workers in at-will employment states and those who live in other areas.
Speak to An Employment Attorney Today
The only way to know for sure whether you have a case is to speak with a qualified employment attorney. The statute of limitations on wrongful termination cases in your state may be quite short. In some situations, you have no more than 30 days.
Most employment lawyers offer a free consultation to discuss your wrongful termination case. It is important to reach out to an employment lawyer as soon as you can to see if you have a case.
Ready to see if you may qualify? Complete your free online employment case evaluation now!
Laura Schaefer is the author of The Teashop Girls, The Secret Ingredient, and Littler Women: A Modern Retelling. She is also an active co-author or ghostwriter of several nonfiction books on personal and business development. Laura currently lives in Windermere, Florida with her husband and daughter and works with clients all over the world. Visit her online at lauraschaeferwriter.com and linkedin.com.