How Should Employees Deal with Wrongful Termination?
Many employees see a job as a lifeline for finances and will do what they can to hold on to it, even if it means going unpaid for overtime or putting up with the discriminatory practices of an employer. Although this makes sense given how the job market functions, employees should not tolerate everything they experience in the office. Even more troubling is that some employees are terminated when they have done nothing wrong.
Employees have rights, and it is up to them to speak up when they experience discrimination, retaliation, or wrongful termination at work. Employers cannot cast their employees aside. These businesses, however, might attempt to circumvent employment and discrimination rules. Employees should reach out to a South Jersey wrongful termination lawyer when it is clear that an employer is not acting in good faith. Whether the victim has been terminated or not, they should come forward as soon as they can.
What is At-Will Employment?
Many workers in New Jersey are considered to be at-will employees, meaning that they can be terminated at any time unless stated otherwise in a legally binding contract. Although this may give the employer an inordinate amount of power over the employee, there are federal and state laws that protect workers from discriminatory and retaliatory practices.
An employment contract typically lays out grounds for termination, how the employee can resolve grievances with the employer, or how the contract can be terminated by either party. Most people who are working in New Jersey do not have a solid contract that provides grounds for termination or a procedure for termination. These at-will employees could be let go with little to no warning. In some cases, these workers might be terminated without issue. Many terminations, however, include discrimination or a violation of an employment contract.
Therefore, it is important for employees to know their rights before a job begins. Someone who is not given an employment contract might ask for a contract that lays out their duties, grounds for termination, and mediation options. If the employer does not offer a standard contract, the employee must understand that they can be legally terminated at any time unless the employer is participating in retaliatory practices or discrimination.
What is the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination?
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) protects certain classes across the state that often experience discrimination. This law deals with more than just employment, but it often comes up when discrimination occurs in the workplace. Someone who has been wrongfully terminated might cite this law when they file suit against their employer.
The law prevents businesses from using discriminatory practices, and this piece of legislation clearly lays out all the protected classes that are covered. A member of a protected class cannot be demoted or terminated without cause, and their status within a protected class cannot be used to make these decisions. The NJLAD also goes further than the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). New Jersey law also applies to workers under age 40 so that employers cannot discriminate against younger workers.
Additionally, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prevents employers from discriminating when providing benefits, posting jobs, job transfers, training, compensation, testing, or offering the use of company facilities. When employees believe that they suffered from discrimination, retaliation, or wrongful termination, they should contact a lawyer for assistance.
What is a Protected Class?
A protected class is defined as any group of people who are specifically protected from discrimination. At times, someone is clearly a member of a protected class, but there are times when the employee does not realize they have been discriminated against because they are not someone who typically deals with discrimination. Terminations that employees suspect were made because of any of the following factors may have been wrongful and therefore illegal:
Age: This type of discrimination most often attached to older workers who are terminated because the business wants to save money. When a series of layoffs adversely affects older workers, it is clear that age discrimination has taken place. The same is true if the company only wants to hire younger workers. Although the business might not say it is hiring only younger workers, it might use terms such as fresh viewpoints, digital natives, recent graduates, very little experience required, or seeking people who fit into the corporate culture.
It is important to remember that people with fresh viewpoints are often thought to be younger workers. Someone who is older likely did not grow up using digital technology, and they likely graduated from college many years ago. These older workers may be told they are overqualified. Additionally, talking about corporate culture typically refers to a younger company that focuses on a more casual environment for which older workers are not accustomed.
Gender: This includes discrimination based on sex, gender identity, or gender expression. Therefore, a woman who dresses in what would be perceived as masculine clothing cannot be discriminated against because she does not dress in a traditional manner. Gender identity also cannot be called into question. If someone says they are a man, they are a man. If an employee says they are a woman, they are a woman. Discrimination based on gender is not allowed. A business cannot, for example, say it only hires women or men for certain a position.
Sexual Orientation: Anyone who does not follow typical sexual norms cannot be denied employment on that basis alone. Even the presumption of a worker’s sexual orientation cannot be used to offer or deny employment.
Disability: The disabled might be terminated because they cannot perform the essential functions of the job, but the employer likely has not made any accommodations. Disabled workers might also be chided for working slowly when they have a physical disability, or they might be told that they need to step down to a lower paying job because they cannot handle the work.
Familial Status: This type of discrimination might be difficult to spot. Employers cannot judge employees if they are married, unmarried, to whom they are married, or whether they have any children. Familial status might also extend to workers who live with extended family members. Relationship status falls close to familial status. A business cannot state that it only hires single individuals. Personal details about the worker cannot determine their ability to make a living.
Race or National Origin: These types of discrimination often come across as a pattern of hiring and firing that is difficult to see. When a group of people are terminated or laid off more than others, it is clear that discrimination may have taken place. Additionally, comments in the office related to national origin or race might point to potential discrimination.
Military Service: This cannot be used as a reason to deny employment. In short, the NJLAD goes to great lengths to prevent discrimination in the workplace while identifying every possible group that could experience discrimination or wrongful termination. Anyone who believes that their rights have been violated in the workplace should reach out to a lawyer as soon as possible.
Associating with Members of a Protected Class
Although employees may not be members of a protected class, they might experience discrimination because they associate with members of a protected class. Unfortunately, employers discriminate against workers every day because they associate with disabled employees, a person of a different race, someone from a certain country, someone of a certain faith, or someone of a particular sexual orientation.
Employees might be surprised if they are suddenly demoted, losing hours, or even fired because they associate with certain people. At the same time, these employees might see the signs of discrimination before they are confronted by their employer. Employees need to speak to a lawyer when it is clear something is wrong.
What If My Employer Retaliates Against Me?
With employment law protections in New Jersey being so stringent and explicit, it may come as a surprise to some that retaliation in the workplace is still a prevalent issue; however, it persists. Despite being cognizant of their local laws, employers in New Jersey may retaliate against employees for various reasons, including whistleblowing and/or denying sexual advances.
Because retaliation is illegal in the workplace, an employee can speak up knowing that they will be on the right side of the law. At the same time, employees may be afraid of losing their jobs when they need them most. Therefore, it is helpful to speak to a lawyer with experience in retaliation cases.
A lawyer can step in to assist the employee in filing a complaint. The employer will take a complaint filed by a lawyer much more seriously, and the employee will have the protection that they believe they need. When someone is brave enough to speak up or report discrimination, they could be terminated before speaking to a lawyer. Employees in this situation should document as much as possible and bring that information to a lawyer during the initial consultation.
What If I Become Pregnant?
Although it is illegal to discriminate against a woman because she is pregnant, it is equally illegal to discriminate against a woman because she could become pregnant in the future. A common complaint involves managers who express that they do not hire women because they will get married, have children, and stop caring about the company. An employer might even ask inappropriate questions of a single woman, such as whether she is in a relationship or whether she wants to have children.
These matters do not have anything to do with the job, but this information could be used to discriminate against an employee. Additionally, a woman who has just given birth and chooses to breastfeed her child cannot be discriminated against because she has made this choice.
What Does My Contract Say?
A lawyer should review a contract before it is signed. The employee’s contract might include information that is troubling or even seems to relieve the employee of their rights. An employee should not sign anything without a lawyer present.
If the employee signed a contract that violates their rights or somehow strips them of their rights, they should contact a lawyer as soon as possible. Employees may be confused by what they can do if they have been terminated under the terms of their contract, and a lawyer will review the contract, reach out to the employer, and help the employee recover their job or compensation.
What If I am a Whistleblower?
Whistleblowers are employees who report the fraudulent actions of their employers to the federal government. It is generally during or shortly after these proceedings that the employer, feeling slighted, will terminate the employee, generally citing a poor work performance or corporate downsizing. However, if this action was retaliatory, the employee may be entitled to compensation. These employees should speak to a lawyer experienced in whistleblower cases when wrongdoing must be reported, or retaliation has taken place after a complaint is filed.
What If I was Sexually Harassed?
Wrongful termination can also occur when an employee is fired after rejecting the sexual advances of an employer. In what is usually called a quid pro quo offer, an employer will promise an employee more compensation or a promotion in exchange for sexual favors.
The favors themselves do not always need to be overtly sexual in nature but can include a promise for dates or other unprofessional actions. When an employee denies such advances, the employer may either terminate or deny them an opportunity in the form of a promotion or change in responsibilities. If victims fear their job will be in jeopardy if they report sexual harassment, they can speak to a lawyer to review the case before filing a complaint.
When Should I Hire a Lawyer?
Anyone who experienced discrimination, retaliation, or wrongful termination should hire a lawyer. The overall tone in the office might change because of an instance of harassment, or the employee might believe that they are suffering from the early stages of discrimination. Someone who is suffering from minor instances of harassment might need to hire a lawyer because they know their company allows sexual harassment to continue unchecked. These employees might believe that the human resources department will not handle the problem and hiring a lawyer can give the employee protection and peace of mind.
There are also instances in which the employee has been terminated for no reason. Employees may also want to consult with a lawyer when they are preparing to sign an employment contract. Because employers can write whatever they want, the contract might not favor the employee in any way. A lawyer should also be retained when the employee has been called into the human resources department for a meeting. An employee who reported discrimination could be blindsided in this meeting. Bringing a lawyer will ensure that the meeting is handled properly.
Can I Be Compensated for Employment Discrimination?
Employment discrimination cases vary when it comes to compensation. Every case is different, and a lawyer should review the case before determining the level of compensation that is available. Common damages sought in wrongful termination cases include the following:
Back pay: Someone who has been wrongfully terminated, harassed, or demoted can petition for back pay. All the money that this person should have earned during the incident can be paid in the form of damages when the case is closed or settled. If the employee still works for the company, they might win a judgment for the difference in pay between their previous position and the position to which they might have been demoted. The same is true if that person lost hours that they would have otherwise worked.
Lost earning potential: This is part of any case because the employee likely had the opportunity to get promoted, earn bonuses, or even move on to better positions in the future. If this worker was wrongfully terminated or demoted, they are not on the same trajectory that they were before their trouble began.
Lost benefits: Benefits help families and workers protect themselves, save for the future, and remain secure. Lost benefits might include matched payments to the employee’s retirement plan, health insurance, dental insurance, and even paid time off. Someone who is unceremoniously terminated might not have the ability to cash out their vacation time or paid time off. The same is true if the employer typically allows those leaving the company to cash in their sick time.
Emotional distress: The emotional distress caused by wrongful termination is a large part of any case. Someone who is harassed will suffer from emotional trauma that makes it difficult to work and function normally. Someone who is terminated for speaking up about mistreatment might wonder how they can feed their families.
Punitive damages: These damages can be awarded by the state given the severity of the case. A lawyer cannot necessarily attach a certain number to punitive damage claims. The judge or jury will award these damages based on the evidence presented.
Employees should allow a lawyer to determine the damages that could be awarded during each case. Employees should not threaten their employer. A lawyer can speak to all the stakeholders in the case and guide the client until the case is settled.
South Jersey Wrongful Termination Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Represent Individuals Affected by Retaliation
If you believe that you have been wrongfully terminated or suffered from retaliation or discrimination at work, you should speak to the South Jersey wrongful termination lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. We can evaluate your case and help you receive the justice and compensation you deserve. Call us today at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Marlton, Moorestown, and Mount Laurel.