What is Wrongful Termination?

Many individuals who work hard to earn a living may not realize that they work “at will.” This means they can be fired without good cause, or without any cause at all. While there are legitimate reasons an employee can be fired, such as layoffs, poor performance, or violating a company policy, an employee who is fired due to unlawful considerations may be the victim of wrongful termination. While the law varies from state to state, these claims can be hard to prove. Let’s take a look at the general grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit.


There are a number of federal laws that prohibit an employer from terminating an employee based on a legally protected characteristic including race, color, national origin, pregnancy, disability, religion, age (40 or older), citizenship status, or genetic information. There are limitations, however, because the law generally applies to employers with 15 or more employees while age discrimination rules apply to employers with at least 20 employees. In addition, there may be laws in place at the local and state level with similar protections. If you believe you were fired because of your status as a member of protected class, you may have grounds for wrongful termination lawsuit due to discrimination.


Under many state and federal laws, it is illegal for an employer to fire, demote, harass or retaliate against  job applicants or employees for filing a claim, or complaining about workplace harassment or discrimination. An employee also cannot be fired for participating in any proceeding, such as an investigation or lawsuit, related to any legally protected activity. In spite of these laws, there are subtle ways in which an employer retaliate against an employee. For example, supervisors and coworkers can adopt hostile attitudes against an employee, however, these are also forms of unlawful retaliation.

Other Types of Illegal Firing

Employers are also generally prohibited from terminating employees in the following circumstances:

  • In violation of a written contract
  • For filing a workers’ compensation claim
  • For reporting a whistleblower complaint
  • For reporting a dangerous or hazardous work condition

In short, if you believe you were fired illegally, you may have grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit. An experienced employment law attorney can help you determine whether you live in an at will state and explore your options.