Wrongful Termination Definition
Wrongful termination generally means an unfair employment discharge. However, not every unfair employment discharge constitutes wrongful termination.
Wrongful termination is the most common term used. But an unfair employment discharge is also referred to as:
- Wrongful discharge
- Wrongful firing
- Wrongful dismissal
- Illegal discharge
- Illegal termination
- Illegal dismissal
- Unfair dismissal
As some of the alternate terms indicate, an employer must illegally discharge an employee for the act to constitute wrongful termination, at least in the legal sense.
If the discharge is not illegal, then it's not wrongful termination in the legal sense, regardless of how unfair it seems. To be an illegal discharge, the employer must have breached an employment contract or violated a law, doctrine or public policy when firing the employee.
For example, if a manager unfairly discharges an employee clearly in violation of a specific discrimination law, then the discharge was illegal and thus, likely to be wrongful termination.
But, if a manager unfairly discharges an employee because of an unresolved personality conflict between the manager and employee that adversely affects their employment relationship, then it's not likely to be an illegal discharge and thus, not likely to be wrongful termination.
That's because there is no specific law, doctrine or public policy against unfairly firing an employee for an unresolved personality conflict, and an employer is not likely to stipulate such a clause in an employment contract.
To better understand whether or not an unfair employment discharge constitutes wrongful termination, it's important to know that employment is "at will" in virtually all states. It means that the U.S. legal system generally considers employment to be voluntary and indefinite for both employers and employees.
Consequently, employers have the right to discharge employees at anytime and for any, no or even unfair reasons, pretty much the same as employees have the right to quit at anytime and for any, no or even unfair reasons. Read At Will Employment for more information or consult a lawyer for legal advice about wrongful termination.
More examples of what might make an employment discharge illegal are on the next page.
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