It always hurts to get fired from a job, but it is only sometimes unfair from a legal standpoint. Sometimes employers lay off employees because the organization is facing financial hardships, and as disappointing and stressful as it is to lose your job, it is just life, and it is no one’s fault. In some cases, employers do not even need a reason to fire you. You may think that you did not do anything wrong that would reasonably cause your employer to fire you, and you are probably right about this. The law makes a distinction, however, between employers firing employees just because they can, on the one hand, and employers firing employees in violation of the employees’ rights, on the other. The Philadelphia wrongful termination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can help you seek legal remedies if your employer violated your rights by terminating your employment.
Employment Contracts, At-Will Employment, and Wrongful Termination
Many employment contracts guarantee that the employee gets to keep his or her job until the expiration date of the contract. The contract should include procedures for what each party should do if they need to terminate the contractual relationship early; if the employer terminates the contract early, the contract might say that the employee is entitled to severance pay in the amount of several weeks’ salary, for example. If an employer terminates the employment relationship before the date indicated in the contract, the employee may have grounds for a breach of contract lawsuit. Not every situation where a job ends before the date specified in the employment contract is eligible for a breach of contract lawsuit, however. For example, some employment contracts contain force majeure clauses, which indicate that the employer is not liable for damages if the employment relationship ends ahead of schedule due to a force majeure event. A force majeure event is one that is so far outside the control of the parties of the contract that it would be unfair to hold the parties liable for being unable to fulfill their contractual obligations in the wake of it. Examples of force majeure events include natural disasters and wars; force majeure events are sometimes called acts of God. Businesses that had to cease operations because of the COVID-19 pandemic sometimes cited force majeure clauses in the ensuing breach of contract litigation.
Most employees do not have employment contracts, however. Pennsylvania allows businesses and employees to enter into an at-will employment relationship. In an at-will employment relationship, the employee can quit at any time; the law does not even require you to give two weeks’ notice when you quit, although it is considered good professional etiquette to do so. In this kind of employment relationship, the employer is also free to fire the employee at any time and for almost any reason.
With or without an employment contract, it does not constitute wrongful termination of employment if the employer’s motivation for terminating the employment relationship was poor job performance or misconduct by the employee. It always counts as wrongful termination of employment if the employer’s decision to terminate the employment relationship counts as discrimination or retaliation. If there was no employee misconduct but also no discrimination or retaliation, then the courts can decide on a case-by-case basis whether wrongful termination of employment was involved.
Termination of Employment in Retaliation for a Protected Activity
Many wrongful termination of employment lawsuits involve employer retaliation. Retaliation is when an employer punishes an employee for exercising a legal right pursuant to federal and state employment laws. Termination of employment is just one kind of adverse action; outside the context of wrongful termination lawsuits, other retaliation claims can involve demotion, harassment, or undesired reassignment of work schedule, location, or duties. The legal rights that are protected from retaliation are called protected activities. Some examples of protected activities include complaining about discrimination, reporting legal violations by your employer to regulatory bodies or law enforcement, requesting an unpaid family or medical leave pursuant to FMLA, filing a workers’ compensation claim, and requesting accommodations for a disability. If you engaged in a legally protected activity shortly before your employer fired you or shortly before relations between you and your employer soured, leading eventually to the termination of your employment, it is never too soon to talk to the Philadelphia wrongful termination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP.
Should You Accept the Severance Offer and Waive Your Right to a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit?
When employers must conduct layoffs in the face of financial hardships, they sometimes ask employees to sign separation agreements, whether the employee has been working on an at-will basis or has signed an employment contract. When you sign a separation agreement, you are acknowledging that the layoff does not constitute wrongful termination of employment; in other words, you are waiving the right to file a wrongful termination of employment lawsuit. When most employees receive a separation agreement to sign, it does not even cross their minds to think about wrongful termination lawsuits. They are so stressed about losing their jobs that they quickly sign so that they can receive any severance pay the employer is offering them as a provision of the separation agreement.
If your employer offers you a separation agreement, do not sign it immediately. Instead, take some time to think about whether you have any reason to sue for wrongful termination because you will lose the chance if you sign. If your employer is downsizing its workforce because of a corporate merger or a financial crisis, then accepting the separation agreement is probably the best choice. If you are the only one losing your job, however, then it makes sense to discuss with an employment lawyer whether discrimination or retaliation is at play.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP About Wrongful Termination of Employment
The Philadelphia employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP can help you if your employer has fired you from your job unjustly. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to set up a consultation.