Why Your Termination may be Wrongful but not Illegal: Unraveling the Myths behind "Wrongful Ter
In order for an employee to have a case against a former employer, his or her termination has to be illegal. The sad thing is, there are plenty of wrongful terminations that aren't illegal. So let's clear up some major misunderstandings about employment law in New Jersey (and in most of the other states in the US):
#1: As harsh as it sounds, you can be let go from your job for any reason or no reason at all.
An employer is not required to give a reason for terminating an employee. Employment is generally "at will," which means either party can end the employment relationship at any time. The only exception to that rule is for those people who have an employment contract - which most people don't.
As we often say to potential clients, a company can decide to terminate its best employee every month, and there is no law against that. The only time an employee would have a good employment case against a former employer is if the termination was motivated by discrimination or in retaliation for protected activity.
#2: It doesn't matter if the reason the employer gave is not true.
We hear it almost everyday - the person on the other end of the call tells me: "I was fired for supposedly being a bad performer - but I was their top sales person!" There is something completely frustrating when you are given a reason that just isn't true. This type of scenario gets us one step closer to having a viable employment case. First, we have to find out the real reason for the termination and then, we have to prove that the real reason is illegal.
In employment cases, it is the job of the Plaintiff (the one bringing the case) to prove that the termination was motivated by an illegal reason. For example, a person may have been told she was terminated because her sales are low, but we have reason to believe that the real reason is that her new boss doesn't like women. It would be our responsibility to prove through circumstantial evidence that the real motivation behind the termination is gender discrimination and not poor performance...
However, if that boss really thought that she was performing poorly, even if she wasn't, and he fires her - that is not illegal.
#3: Personality clashes are a perfectly "legal" - albeit unfair- reason for a supervisor to terminate an employee.
The list of unfair reasons that an employer can terminate an employee for is endless. It could be because they would rather hire their cousin, because they don't like your taste in music, your personalities clash, or any number of completely absurd reasons.
What makes a termination illegal?
So as you may have already gathered, most of the scenarios that we call "wrongful terminations" are not illegal. That does not mean that you can never sue an employer for "wrongful termination." If the real reason that an employer has terminated your job is discrimination or retaliation for your protected whistleblowing activity, then you may have an employment case against them. To learn more about what a discriminatory or retaliatory termination is, check out our employment law pages at www.thelgfirm.com.
Of course, an employer will almost never come out and say that they are firing you for a discriminatory reason or for your whistleblowing. They will almost always come up with another reason that sounds a little bit more acceptable. But as we say to our clients often, you know when you are being discriminated against. The key then becomes trying to prove the employer's true intent and digging past the seemingly legal reason(s) for the termination.
So, while there are many reasons an employer can give for terminating your employment that are perfectly legal, if you think that the real reason is discriminatory or retaliatory, reach out to a lawyer who is willing to give you a free consultation and evaluation of your case.