While there is no Federal “Wrongful Termination Law,” there are Federal and state laws, constitutional provisions, and public policies in place to protect the rights of workers from unlawful discharge. Although most states, including Oklahoma, follow the Doctrine of Employment at Will, employers may not violate Federal or state laws in terminating a worker’s employment. "At-will" employment may be terminated at any time by either the employer or employee for any reason which is not unlawful or discriminatory. If you are fired from your job for any of the following reasons, you may be a victim of wrongful termination:
- as discrimination based on age, sex, national origin, or disability
- for filing a Workers’ compensation claim against your employer
- for serving in the military or on jury duty
- for reasonably exercising union rights or employee rights under labor laws
- for legitimately taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act
Employers are not required to provide a reason for your termination; however, it is generally in their best interest to do so. If you are discharged from your job and not given a reason, you should be suspicious. At-will employment can make it difficult to prove wrongful termination without the help of a competent attorney. If you feel you have been let go from your job in violation of Federal law, state law, public policy, or your constitutional rights, contact Lawter & Associates, PLLC for a free consultation.
Q: Does my employer have to document poor performance on reviews or give me any warnings before firing me?
A: Your employer is under no obligation to provide warnings or negative reviews. As an at-will employee, you or your employer may terminate your employment at any time, for any reason which is not illegal. Union members may have addional rights under their contract.
Q: What are the exceptions to at-will employment?
A: The exceptions to employment-at-will include implied contract, promissory estoppel, breach of covenant of good faith, and violation of public policy. If any of these exceptions are the reason for your termination, you may have a wrongful termination claim.
Promissory estoppel prevents employers from making promises without consideration and protects employees who relied on those broken promises. For example, if an employer promises you will be employed for a specified period of time or for a specified purpose, and then breaks that promise by terminating your employment despite all criteria of the promise being met, you may have a wrongful termination claim based on promissory estoppel. To prove the claim, you must prove that your employer made a clear, unambiguous promise on which you reasonably relied, and that you were injured when that promise was broken. This can be difficult to do without the assistance of an attorney experienced in wrongful termination suits.
A breach of public policy occurs when the policies set by the state in the best interest of the general public are violated. Some examples include firing an employee for refusing to perform an illegal act, for reporting a criminal act, for taking leave for National Guard activities, or for filing a workers’ compensation claim after being injured on the job.
If you believe you were fired for a reason that is an exception to the Doctrine of Employment at Will, contact Lawter & Associates, PLLC for a free consultation.
Q: I was not fired, but my employer made my working conditions so bad that I had no choice but to resign. Do I have any recourse?
A: Generally, someone who quits a job has no entitlement to damages or to unemployment benefits. However, there is an exception called “constructive discharge.” Constructive discharge occurs when an employer institutes a change conditions intolerable, forcing an employee to quit. Some examples of hostile working conditions include discrimination or harassment; or a negative change in pay, benefits, or workload for reasons unrelated to job performance.
To claim constructive discharge, you must prove that your employer changed a working condition that led directly to your resignation. That change must have occurred close to your resignation to demonstrate cause and effect. Additionally, you must show that the change resulted in working conditions so intolerable that any reasonable employee in the same situation would feel compelled to quit, and that your employer created or allowed the change, despite it being predictable that the change would cause a reasonable person to quit. It is difficult to prove all of these points without the help of an experienced attorney.
Q: Can my employer deny my unemployment benefits?
A: The state unemployment office determines whether or not you are eligible for compensation, and your employer has no power to accept or deny your claim. He can, however, appeal the decision of the unemployment office, as can you. Generally, if your employment was terminated for any other reason than “for cause,” you are eligible to receive unemployment benefits.
The amount of compensation for which you are eligible is determined by a combination of your salary over the last year and the average weekly wage earned by all workers statewide. You will generally receive compensation for up to 26 weeks as long as you are actively seeking employment.
Q: When does my employer have to issue my final paycheck?
A: In Oklahoma, your employer must give you your last paycheck on the next regular payday.