While employers are generally allowed to hire and fire employees at their discretion, workers are provided some protections that prevent wrongful termination, also referred to in Maryland as wrongful discharge. If you have been fired from your job for questionable reasons, you may have a claim for damages. At HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP our knowledgeable and experienced employment lawyers are prepared to zealously advocate for your rights as an employee. To learn more about your legal options, call or contact our office today to schedule an evaluation of your case.
Maryland is an At-Will State
Maryland, like many other states, is considered an “at-will” employment state. This means that employees work at the will of their employers and can be hired or fired for almost any reason, or for no reason at all, provided that there is no contract, agreement, or policy to the contrary with the employer. However, there are exceptions to the at-will employment rule that provide protections for workers and may give rise to a claim for wrongful termination by an employee if they are terminated because they disclosed illegal, unethical, criminal, or unsafe acts occurring in the workplace.
What Constitutes Wrongful Termination in Maryland?
Under Maryland law, an employee can be wrongfully terminated or discharged if an employer fires a worker for conduct that is protected by state or federal public policy. In order to qualify for wrongful termination, there must be an employer/employee relationship, the employee was exposed to an adverse employment action, and the employee’s protected conduct was a motivating or substantial factor in that adverse employment action. It is important to note that an adverse employment action under wrongful discharge also applies to demotion, suspension, and other disciplinary actions in addition to termination from a job. A worker who believes that they were wrongfully terminated in Maryland has three years from the date of the adverse employment action to file a lawsuit for damages.
Reasons for Wrongful Termination
There are many types of protected conduct that an employee can engage in and not be terminated by their employer as a result. If an employee can show by a preponderance of the evidence that a nexus exists between their termination and any of the following, they may have a significant claim of wrongful discharge against their employer.
Under state and federal law, an employer may not discriminate against an employee based on their actual or perceived protected characteristics. These protected characteristics include race, ethnicity, color, gender, national origin, religion, disability, age, and marital status. Sexual orientation, pregnancy status, and discrimination based on certain genetic information is also prohibited discrimination in the workplace. Any adverse employment action taken against a worker by their employer because of their actual or perceived protected status can result in a wrongful termination claim.
Whistleblowing and Fraud
Protected conduct by an employee includes whistleblowing on their employer. Whistleblowing refers to the reporting of what an employee reasonably believes to be illegal or prohibited activity by their employer. Even if the employee was incorrect in their belief that something illegal was happening, an employer cannot terminate them for their whistleblowing activity. Relatedly, employees cannot be terminated for reporting fraud or for refusing to take part in fraudulent business practices.
Reporting Unsafe Conditions
Another protected activity for workers is reporting unsafe working conditions or refusing to work in unsafe conditions. If an employer fires or otherwise makes an adverse employment action against an employee who reports unsafe conditions or refuses to work until those unsafe conditions are remedied, they can be held liable for wrongful termination. Unsafe conditions can refer to slippery or debris riddled floors, improperly secured machinery or poorly maintained equipment, bad lighting, dangerous stairways or elevators, obstacles blocking exits or walkways, trailing extension cords, and threat of physical harm from another employee.
An employer cannot terminate an employee for participating in a government investigation. If the employer is under investigation by a federal agency or law enforcement, a worker cannot be fired for cooperating with the investigation or for refusing to lie to a government official on behalf of their employer.
Appearing in court is another protected activity that if an employee is fired for engaging in they can sue for wrongful termination. Protected court appearances include being called as a witness in a civil or criminal trial as well as being called to court for jury duty. Even if a worker is selected as a jury member for a case that lasts for weeks or more, the employer is not allowed to terminate or take other adverse actions against them for participating in their civic duty.
An employer also cannot take an adverse action against a worker who takes an unpaid leave of absence under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the Maryland Parental Leave Act (MPLA). State and federal laws protect workers who qualify under these acts to take a leave from their jobs for family or medical purposes with the assurance that they cannot be terminated.
Requesting Unpaid Wages
Finally, an employee can sue for wrongful termination if they are fired for requesting unpaid wages or that their wages be paid promptly. A worker cannot be terminated legally for demanding payment earned by their work for the employer.
Compensation for a Wrongful Termination Claim
Employees who successfully bring a wrongful termination claim against their employers in Maryland are entitled to a number of compensation benefits. The first is lost pay, which includes any pay that would have been earned as well as any potential overtime or other pay. An employee is also entitled to any lost benefits, including contributions to a 401(k), vision, dental, stock options, profit sharing, and more. A worker may also collect damages for emotional distress if the circumstances surrounding the wrongful termination were so distressing that it caused mental pain and suffering to the employee.
Contact Our Maryland Wrongful Termination Lawyers Today
Wrongful termination can be a complex and complicated legal claim, but you do not have to go through this process alone. Do you believe that you or someone you know has been wrongfully terminated from their job in the Baltimore area? If so, the experienced employment law attorneys at HKM Employment Attorneys are here to help. Call the office or contact us today to schedule a consultation of your case with one of our knowledgeable lawyers and learn more about your legal options.