When you fill out a job application, and it asks you to fill in information about your previous employment, there is usually a question about your reason for leaving each job. When you are submitting a resume instead of just answering questions on an application, you have more leeway to present your employment history in the most flattering light possible, but at your job interview, the prospective employer will probably ask you about the circumstances under which you stopped working for your previous employers. The subtext is that, if a previous employer has fired you from a job, the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate to future employers why they should hire you. If you tell the manager who is interviewing you for your next job that it was not fair for your previous employer to fire you, you might be right. Legal remedies are available for people whose employment has been unjustly terminated. The first step to standing up for your rights in the face of wrongful termination of employment is to contact the Charlotte employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP.
Wrongful Termination of Employment in an At-Will Employment State
North Carolina law gives employers a lot of flexibility to terminate the employment of workers as they choose; in legal terms, this is called at-will employment. North Carolina is an at-will employment state; unless otherwise specified in writing, the end date of your employment is whenever your employer decides they no longer want you to work for them. Your best defense against your employer arbitrarily deciding to terminate your employment is an employment contract. Most contracts specify a length of time during which the employer agrees to keep the employee on the payroll; if your employer terminates your employment before the end of the contract period specified in the employment contract, you have the right to sue your employer for breach of contract.
If you do not have an employment contract, your employer has the right to fire you “just because,” but is it really “just because,” or is it something more sinister? Is it really discrimination? It might be if your employer has fired multiple employees that look like you and none that look like the person who makes the hiring decisions. Is it retaliation after you requested an unpaid family leave, filed a worker’s compensation claim, or got married and added your spouse to your employer-provided health insurance policy? There are exceptions to the rule that your employer can fire you at any time for any reason. If there is more than one possible interpretation of the circumstances surrounding your employer’s decision to terminate your employment, contact the Charlotte employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP.
Retaliation and Quid Pro Quo Harassment
Federal and state laws protect you from retaliation, in the form of termination of employment or other adverse actions (such as harassment or denial of a promotion), if you exercise your rights. If your employer terminated your employment after you took one of the following actions, you have grounds to allege wrongful termination of employment:
- Filing a complaint about workplace discrimination
- Filing a workers’ compensation claim
- Requesting a reasonable accommodation for a disability
- Requesting FMLA leave
- Participating in an investigation about discrimination, ethical violations, or safety violations in your workplace
Your employer might also threaten to fire you if you complain about sexual harassment or if you do not give into pressure to date your work supervisor; this is called quid pro quo harassment.
If you allege wrongful termination of employment, your employer might claim that they actually terminated your employment because of misconduct or poor job performance on your part. The Charlotte employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can help you tell your side of the story convincingly. If you are alleging discrimination, remember that employment discrimination comes in many forms. Federal law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, religion, age, gender, national origin, and disability. North Carolina law also includes several other protected categories, namely having served in the Armed Forces or having tested positive for any of three medical conditions (HIV, hemoglobin C trait, and sickle cell trait).
Do Not Be Fooled by That Severance Package
Sometimes employers use lies, gaslighting, or plain old intimidation to persuade former employees not to sue them for wrongful termination of employment. In some cases, they use a more subtle tactic, namely, trying to convince you that they are terminating your employment in the most generous possible way. Your employer might ask you to sign a separation agreement, in which you agree not to sue them for wrongful termination of employment. Of course, that is not how the employer will present it to you; they will make it sound like they are generously giving you an end-of-service bonus known as a severance package. The severance pay that your employer is offering you in the separation agreement might seem like a lot of money, but it might actually be your employer taking the easy way out; from your employer’s perspective, it is better to pay you a few thousand dollars in severance than to get sued and have a court order them to pay you hundreds of thousands.
If your employer is laying off lots of workers because of a major financial hardship, it is probably a good idea to sign the separation agreement and accept the severance package. If you have reason to believe that your employer is targeting you unfairly and could afford to keep you on the payroll if they so choose, then do not be so hasty to sign. Instead, discuss with your lawyer whether it is a good idea to forfeit your right to sue or if you should refuse to sign the separation agreement.
Contact a North Carolina Employment Lawyer About Wrongful Termination of Employment
An employment lawyer can help you if your employer has unfairly terminated your employment; it could be a case of breach of contract or employment discrimination. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Charlotte, North Carolina to set up a consultation.