Wrongful Termination

“Wrongful termination” or “wrongful discharge” is a term that gets a lot of airplay but, by itself, does not mean much. In Georgia, as in many states, there is no cause of action for “wrongful termination” or “wrongful discharge.” There are, however, many employment laws that, if violated in connection with a termination, could create a wrongful termination. For example, as mentioned in connection with the discussion of “employment-at-will,” there is a line that divides an employer’s right to fire an employee for any reason or no reason from what can be considered wrongful discharge. That dividing line is comprised of federal laws, state statutes and what are called common law torts. Described below are is the two sides of the law – one side that allows employers free rein in termination and the other side that implicates a wrongful discharge claim.

Employment-at-Will

As discussed on this site, employment-at-will is a concept that simply refers to the right of an employer to terminate your employment at any time or “at will” and your right to leave a job at any time or “at will” without liability. This concept has been codified into law and essentially allows an employment relationship to be terminated at any time, by either the employer or employee, with or without cause, and regardless of motive. There are, however, many exceptions to the law and some of those are listed below.

Tort Law Protections

Some protections marking the line between employment-at-will and wrongful termination or wrongful discharge are torts or personal wrongs that are defined either by the common law and judicial authority or by statute. These include: fraud, defamation, assault and battery, negligent hiring/retention, failure to maintain a safe workplace, intentional interference with contract, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Many of these are discussed separately on this site. Take, for example, negligent hiring and/or retention. If an employer hires someone or retains in employment someone who is known to have a bias against a particular race or gender or who has evidenced a history of violence, that conduct may be considered negligence. To the extent that same person then commits an act of discrimination or violence against another employee and the employer knows of it or otherwise ratifies the conduct, the employer can be liable for negligent hiring or retention.

Federal Law Protections

There are also many federal laws that separate employment-at-will from what can be called wrongful discharge. For instance, most employers may not refuse hire or terminate an employee on account of his or her disability (the Americans with Disabilities Act) or because of his or her race (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1866) or because of his or her age (the Age Discrimination in Employment Act). Similarly, an employer may not terminate an employee because he or she has spoken out about or participated in investigations under these laws. There are also other laws that protect against retaliation for engaging in certain whistleblowing activity. Likewise, for public employees, there are Constitutional protections for exercising First Amendment rights and requiring equal protection under the law (the Fourteenth Amendment). Anyway, you get the picture.

If you believe you have suffered a wrongful termination or discharge or if you simply want information about your rights or responsibilities concerning terminations, call us. We can be reached toll free at 1-855-774-3675 or you can send an e-mail or fill out a consultation request form and we will contact you right away to discuss your situation.