An Insurance Policy for Wrongful Termination

Think about your most valuable asset. What would you say it is? For some people, their most valuable asset is their home. For others, it is their car. Other people may consider their health as being their most valuable asset. These assets are protected by something that can replace the value of the asset if the asset is destroyed. Homes are protected by homeowner’s insurance. Cars are protected by motor vehicle insurance. Health is protected by health insurance and life is protected by life insurance.

How many people would consider their job as their most valuable asset? Your job provides a recurring revenue stream that allows you to provide for the most basic of needs – food, clothing, shelter, and support for your family. Your job provides earnings that contribute to your lifestyle and your livelihood. What protection do you have for your job? The reality is, none. Of course, disability insurance may provide some relief in the event that a temporary or permanent disability affects your ability to earn an income. But, there isn’t any insurance to protect your job – that valuable asset that produces your earnings, week after week. Note: State-sponsored disability or unemployment benefits might be available if you qualify and live in certain states, but they are limited in duration.

In most states, the doctrine of employment-at-will exists. Under the employment-at-will doctrine, an employer can fire you for any reason, or no reason at all. There isn’t any insurance available to protect employees from being fired for legitimate business reasons or for no reason.

Employers can fire people even for unfair reasons. An unfair reason is not necessarily an illegal reason. For example, your employer has a banner year in profitability. The CEO’s compensation was a few more million dollars than it was last year. To improve profitability, even more, the CEO is hacking jobs and making the employees who are spared work even harder. Unfair? Yes. Illegal? No.

The law does not allow an employer to fire you for an illegal reason. Examples of illegal reasons can be found in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, to name a few. An employer cannot fire you because of your age, race, religion, skin color, national origin, sex, disability, pregnancy, or other protected trait. A “protected trait” is one in which the law will protect you if you are treated differently because you possess that trait.

These laws provide an insurance policy of sorts for your job. These laws provide a remedy for people who are fired for any of the reasons protected by these laws. The remedies include monetary damages. But, it is important to understand that, in order to take advantage of the protection afforded by these laws, the employee has the burden of proving that he/she was terminated for an illegal reason. If you suspect that you are being discriminated against on the basis of your age, race, religion, skin color, national origin, sex, disability, pregnancy, or any other trait that these laws protect, do the following:

Maintain a Record: Document the “who, what, where, when, how, and why.” Document the discriminatory conduct, record the name of the person(s) perpetrating the conduct, where the conduct occurred when it occurred, and the names of any witnesses.

Complain: Know your company’s discrimination policy, and make a written complaint to memorialize your notification to the company. But, do not complain about how the company runs its business or about the styles of management. A complaint must clearly state why you think you were treated differently because of your trait, which the law will protect.

Note: in the event that you complain, the complaint itself is a protected activity. In the event that you suffer an adverse employment action as a result of your complaint e.g., terminated, you would have a viable retaliation complaint.

Consult an Attorney: If you experience retaliation as a result of your complaint or if the discrimination does not stop, contact an employment attorney who can advise you of your rights.

Subject to very limited exceptions, there is no constitutional right to employment.  

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