Would You Know If You Were Fired Illegally?

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Unfair dismissal claims (also called wrongful dismissal cases or wrongful termination lawsuits) are an important recourse for U.S. employees who feel they’ve been wrongly fired from a job. But if you’re considering filing one, you should know that, despite their name, unfair dismissal claims are based not truly on fairness, but on illegality. How can you know if your firing was illegal? Although you’ll want to talk to some employment rights attorneys in person before you get too far along in your case, you can start off by educating yourself on the three biggest categories of illegal firings:

  1. Discrimination

    According to federal law, most employers may not fire an employee due to race, gender, national origin, religion, genetic information, age (if the employee is older than 40), disability or pregnancy. Some states have additional laws adding categories such as marital status or sexual orientation to these lists. These groupings are known as “protected classes.” It’s important to note that even if you are part of one of these protected classes, you’ll need to prove that your firing was directly related to your inclusion in that group in order to claim unfair dismissal.

  2. Retaliation

    An employer may not fire you in retaliation for certain protected activities. For example, if you claim that you were denied a promotion because of discrimination, it would be considered a retaliatory firing if your employer let you go for making the company go through an inquiry even if you lost your original claim. Your employer also may not retaliate against you for demanding your rights as an employee as laid out by the law, for reporting workplace safety violations or for blowing the whistle on illegal activities.

  3. Public Policy Violation

    These laws are less well known, but it’s illegal to terminate an employee for exercising legal rights such as voting or taking federally protected family leave. Your employer also may not fire you for refusing to do something illegal yourself or for refusing to cover up illegal practices. There’s some overlap here with laws protecting you from retaliatory firings; you’d want to look at the finer details with a lawyer before actually filing a claim.

What are some other common reasons for firing that might prompt unfair dismissal claims? Share your thoughts or ask questions in the comments.

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