When someone loses their job, their steady source of income, it is natural to wonder what went wrong or how they could have avoided this situation of sudden unemployment. “Why was I fired?” may be a recurring question, along with the sentiment that one’s firing was “unfair”, but it is important to understand that unfair may differ from illegal.
Its important to keep in mind that most employer-employee relationships are at will. This means that either party can end the relationship for any reason at all and even for no reason at all. It is when the reason is a bad one-an illegal one-that wrongful termination may have taken place. One’s termination is wrongful if it was done in breach of the employment contract or in violation of some public law. Therefore, if a Minnesota resident was fired in violation of some federal anti-discrimination law, such as racial discrimination, it could be considered wrongful. Similarly, if the employee is fired as a retaliatory measure for lodging a legal complaint against the employer, it would also be considered against the law.
Depending on the type of federal law the employer has violated by wrongfully terminating an employee, it is possible the employer face statutory penalties along with being liable to pay damages based on lost wages and related expenses. Punitive damages may also be possible in certain cases.
A terminated employee should not automatically assume their employment is one that is at will, and therefore they do not have a claim for wrongful dismissal. Certain factors may turn at-will employment into an implicitly contractual one, a violation of which could give rise to wrongful termination. Consulting an experienced attorney for more clarity on the matter could prove beneficial in these situations.