Wrongful Termination Lawyer

I get many calls each week from people who claim that they have been “wrongfully terminated.” But after I hear their stories, most of them do not have a valid claim. Let me explain why. 

What Sometimes Seems “Wrong” is not Illegal

An employee might think that he or she has been subjected to a “wrongful termination,” when it could simply be a termination “at-will.” There is a huge difference between the two “terminations.” One word yields the answer – “because.”

At-will employment means that either party, the employer or the employee, can end the employment arrangement at any time for any reason – so long as it’s not an unlawful reason. If you are not covered by either a union or employment contract, then you are an at-will employee. Terminations at work occur all the time. Sometimes a termination is unfair. Sometimes it seems down right wrong. But yet the employer may have legally terminated the employee at will. 

Assuming no employment contract, at-will is the starting point. Then the question becomes whether the employer violated any law that protected the employee’s rights. A claim of “wrongful termination” does not exist by itself. You must identify a specific law protecting employees’ rights that the employer violated in carrying out the termination.

One of the most common laws that is violated at work is the right to equal employment opportunities, i.e., the right not to be discriminated against. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) explains that it is illegal to mistreat or to fire an employee because of certain characteristics, called “protected classes.” These are race, sex, religion, age, disability, and national origin. If an employer fires someone because of that person’s race, then the at-will doctrine no longer applies. The key to the entire analysis hinges on the word “because.”

Termination: “Wrongful” or Because of Theft?

In a notable incident involving the COVID-19 vaccine, a physician employed by Harris County was accused of stealing 9 doses of the Moderna vaccine. At the end of the day the doctor tried to find persons to take the last 9 doses before the time limit for effectiveness of the vaccine expired, according to the Houston Chronicle. After contacting other workers and police and also confirming with his supervisor that no patient at the hospital needed a vaccine, he contacted persons via his cell phone and administered the vaccine to them, plus the final dose to his chronically ill wife.

Harris County fired the doctor after public health leaders determined he had violated a county policy by removing doses from a vaccination site.  The District Attorney accused the doctor of stealing the doses for his family and friends. The physician claims that he tried to offer the remaining vaccine to anyone and everyone on site and that if the vaccine had not been used within the required time period, it would have been destroyed. Those 9 persons would have gone without vaccination that day. He claims his termination was wrongful and unjust.

Obviously, if the facts are as the doctor has explained, his actions sound laudable. But the question still remains: Did Harris County violate any law that protected the doctor’s rights in doing what he did? If not, with no contract his termination was at-will.

We must watch the news to find out the answer.

Depends on Individual Facts

The point is that what may appear to be a “wrongful termination” cannot be decided on a bare minimum of facts. Gardner Employment Law has examined hundreds, if not thousands, of termination claims. Some are wrongful; many are at-will.

If you’ve been terminated, we can offer legal advice to help you make a decision – whether it was wrongful and, if so, what to do. Give us a call.

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