What is Wrongful Termination?
Firing an employee for illegal reasons is called “wrongful termination” or “wrongful discharge,” and the employee may be entitled to bring a lawsuit if it occurs. While most employees in North Carolina and throughout the United States are “at will” employees, that only means you can leave your job for any reason you choose, just as your employer can let you go from your job with or without cause. What your employer cannot do, however, is fire you from your job for illegal reasons, such as discrimination, retaliation, or for refusing to break the law.
What counts as “Wrongful”?
The law prohibits your employer from firing you for any reason that is against the public policy of the state. The courts have elected not to specifically define what counts as wrongful termination in order to remain flexible enough to cover new situations that are abhorrent to public welfare. If you were fired for any of the following reasons, you may be entitled to bring a lawsuit for wrongful termination:
- Refusing to lie in court
- Refusing to break industry safety rules
- Refusing to falsify records
- Refusing to accept illegal working conditions
- Objecting to unsafe working conditions
- Objecting to illegal pay practices
- Filing (or threatening to file) a complaint with a government agency
- Reporting corruption to public officials
- Adhering to professional standards of practice
- Filing criminal charges
- Cooperating in a criminal investigation
- Refusing to violate debt collection laws
- Opposing activity that violates federal law or defrauds the federal government;
- Taking time off for a child’s school activities
- Taking time off to obtain a protective order
If you are still employed and have raised any of these issues, you may already have a sense that you are in danger of losing your job. Contact an employment lawyer while you are still employed. There may be important steps you need to take while still employed in order to ensure you are protected. There are also specific measures experienced attorneys can take to counter a company’s attempt to wrongfully fire you or retaliate against you.
How long do I have to act?
North Carolina House Bill 2 temporarily eliminated the ability of employees to bring many types of claims for wrongful discharge. After months of public outcry, the State restored the right to bring such actions, but dramatically cut the time in which employees have to file a lawsuit. You should contact an employment lawyer as soon as possible following a termination you believe to have been wrongful in order to comply with this new law.