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Wrongful Termination
 More of this Feature
 What Constitutes Wrongful Termination?
 Justifiably Claiming Wrongful Termination
 Seeking Relief for Wrongful Termination
 Related Resources
 About Non-Compete Agreements
 About Employment Separation (Severance) Agreements
 Am I Entitled to Severance Pay?
 Collecting Unemployment Insurance
 Drug Testing in the Workplace
 Employment-Related Defamation
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 Research Labor Laws
 What can my ex-employer say about me?
 What's Constructive Discharge?
 What's Employment at Will?
 What's Employment Discrimination?
 What's in a Severance Package?
 Elsewhere on the Web
 Model Employment Termination Act Summary
 What's good cause for firing?
 When is firing discriminatory?
 Wrongful Termination

Justifiably Claiming Wrongful Termination

There is no wrongful termination law per se, but rather a variety of state and Federal laws with provisions that protect employees from it. Under such laws, wrongful termination might apply if your employer fired or laid you off, or forced you to quit or retire. Below are just a few examples of reasons to justifiably claim wrongful termination.


Employers can't legally terminate you solely on the basis of gender, race, creed, disability and a variety of other discriminatory reasons. But if a discrimination isn't specifically covered by a law, you are not generally protected from that type of discrimination.

For example, if your boss fires you simply because he or she doesn't like you on a personal level, good cause or not aside, that's not discrimination by law. But, if you can prove that he or she doesn't like you for one of the reasons protected by law, and furthermore, that's why he or she fired you, then it's discrimination and you likely have a winnable case.


Employers can't rightfully terminate you for reporting their illegal actions to the proper authorities (commonly called whistle blowing). They also can't axe you in retaliation for something you legally did or they illegally did, or because you refused to do something that was contrary to public policy and sound morality, such as breaking the law.

For example, if your boss fires you because you filed a legit worker's compensation claim or didn't yield to his or her sexual advances, you probably have a good shot at winning a lawsuit.

Defamation of Character

You might be able to sue for wrongful termination if your employer intentionally defamed you to justify terminating you.

For example, if your employer falsely accuses you of stealing as an excuse to fire you, you might have a case for wrongful termination in violation of public policy.

Breach of Explicit or Implied Contract

If you work on contract for a specified period and are satisfying the terms, employers typically can't terminate your contract without good cause before the specified period ends. (Union workers, athletes, actors, upper management, independent contractors and such, usually work on contract.) But if your contract includes an "escape clause" indicating that either party may end the relationship without consequence, that's likely good cause enough without further explanation.

In the absence of explicit contracts, some states might consider employers' policy manuals, employee handbooks, employee agreements and similar documents as binding, implied or "implied-in-fact" contracts of continued employment, depending on how they're worded. But that's usually if employers don't explicitly document the terms of employment at will and good cause for termination.

According to the landmark, 1988 decision in the Foley vs. Interactive Data Corp. case in California, states might also consider an employee's chain of promotions, raises, great merit reviews, and verbal assurances of job security as an implied-in-fact contract. But not all state courts acknowledge the so-called Foley criteria to the letter, and remember that employment agreement you signed way back when you were hired? You might have let your employer off the hook, if it included an acknowledgement that such things do not constitute a contract or guarantee of continued employment.

Breach of Good Faith and Fair Dealing

"Good faith and fair dealing" is an implied covenant that employees deserve to be treated fairly by their employers, especially dedicated, long-term employees.

Examples of an employer's breach of this covenant include firing employees to avoid granting the rewards they've earned and manufacturing reasons to fire employees. But not all states recognize breach of this covenant as a wrongful-termination exception to the Employment at Will Doctrine.

Constructive Discharge

If you quit because your employer instituted or allowed a change that made working conditions intolerable, and if any reasonable employee would have quit too under the same circumstances, you might have a case for constructive discharge, a form of wrongful termination.

In other words, your employer might have, in effect, wrongfully terminated you by making or allowing a change that forced you to quit, according to the legal concept of constructive discharge. However, constructive discharge is not easy to prove.

More About This

For specific Federal laws that limit employers' rights to terminate you, see Page 3 of "Employment at Will"

Next Page > Seeking Relief for Wrongful Termination
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This article is just a guide and not intended as legal advice. Neither the author nor publisher are engaged in rendering legal services. Please see an attorney for legal advice. Because laws vary by state and are subject to change, neither the author nor publisher guarantees the accuracy of this article.

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