Although Connecticut is an at-will employment state, not all employee terminations are legal. If you’re an employer, you may have been accused of letting someone go for an illegal reason. On the other hand, as a former employee, it may be that your employer illegally fired you. Stanfield Bechtel Law counsels and represents employers and employees in wrongful termination cases. Reach out to us if you are involved with one of these claims.
What is Wrongful Termination?
Most jobs in Connecticut are at will, meaning the employer can fire the employee for any reason (or no reason at all). There are limits to this, however. A wrongful termination occurs when an employer fires someone in a way that violates the law or breaches a contract. More specifically, firing for any of these reasons is considered to be wrongful termination:
Because of a legally protected characteristic. These characteristics include race, color, religion, age, disability, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, and other traits. If you were fired, for instance, for certain behavior while another person who doesn’t share your particular characteristics (such as race) was not fired for the same behavior, you may have grounds for a lawsuit. This type of employment discrimination violates both federal and state law, with Connecticut statutes providing greater protections to more categories of workers.
For taking advantage of an employment law program or benefit. There are various examples that fall into this category. One is filing for workers’ compensation. This system exists to protect injured workers and an employer cannot fire an employee for filing a claim. Another example is taking time off from work under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Since these programs are benefits specifically allowed by law to employees, employers cannot terminate someone for using them.
For reporting illegal or dangerous work activity. The law protects employees who report or file formal complaints about certain activities at their workplace, such as discrimination or unsafe working conditions. Similarly, it is illegal to fire an employee who is asked to participate in a work-related investigation, hearing, or court action (e.g. as a witness). This type of firing amounts to unlawful retaliation.
In violation of an employment contract. Employment contracts protect workers by requiring certain conditions to be met before they can be let go. The contract may even contain procedures for handling employer-employee disputes that must be followed before a worker can be fired. An employer may either challenge the validity of the contract that is claimed or whether a termination actually breaches it.
In violation of a collective bargaining agreement. If the employee is a union member subject to a collective bargaining agreement, the contract will usually list the reasons an employee may be fired. Many union contracts require that a person can only be fired for cause, as defined in the contract. A fired employee can work with their union representative or an attorney to challenge the termination.
Wrongful Termination is Often Subtle
It is rare that an employer will directly state that a worker is being fired for an unlawful reason. So, for instance, an employer probably won’t tell an employee that he or she is being fired because they are black. Wrongful terminations tend to be more subtle. An employer may, as an example, begin excessively disciplining a black employee for minor workplace infractions – while not doing the same for white employees – in an attempt to generate a paper trail that shows insubordination. A company that is determined to illegally fire someone may even make up reasons or fabricate evidence.
How We Help Employers Accused of Wrongful Termination
We defend businesses that have been accused of wrongfully terminating their employees. In representing employers we examine the circumstances, review the allegations, and then work to either refute them or to limit the damages that a jury may award. We can assist your business by:
- Investigating the factual circumstances and allegations concerning the termination
- Demonstrating that the termination was in fact lawful
- Explaining to our clients what the employment laws are and how a jury may view the firing
- Interviewing witnesses and other third parties who can defend the employer’s actions
- Using alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation to attempt to resolve the issue
- Attempting to settle the lawsuit, which could minimize damages and avoid the hassle of a trial
- Defending the employer in court and before administrative bodies concerning the alleged wrongful termination
Our firm also offers the following services, which can help reduce the chances of future wrongful termination litigation:
- Examining your existing business practices with an eye towards how you conduct terminations
- Adopting or revising a workplace policies and procedures manual, especially concerning the steps used to discipline and terminate employees
- Reviewing and drafting employment contracts to protect your right to terminate employees
- Providing general counsel and advice to minimize the risk of lawsuits
How We Represent Employees in Wrongful Termination Lawsuits
If you’re an employee who was wrongfully fired, our firm will handle the dispute and work to resolve it in your favor. This may include everything from negotiating a resolution with the employer to filing and litigating a lawsuit. We assist with the following:
- Filing and litigating a lawsuit against your former employer
- Obtaining the necessary evidence to prove your claim, including by use of discovery
- Attempting to mediate your claim against your former employer
- Representing you before any administrative bodies concerning your wrongful termination
- Seeking, if possible, a fair out-of-court settlement with your former employer’s attorney
Contact Our Connecticut Wrongful Termination Attorney
As an employer, you could be on the hook for substantial damages if a jury sides against you for wrongfully terminating someone. If you’re an employee, you may seek compensation to account for the losses you should not have incurred because of being fired. Whether you’re an employer or an employee, let Stanfield Bechtel Law represent you in your wrongful termination case. Call us today.