Ask a Wrongful Termination Lawyer: If I'm an "At-Will" Employee, Can I Still Make a Case?
Even if you are in an at-will state, there are specific reasons your employer cannot fire you. While they can fire you without explanation, for a false reason, and with no notice, they cannot fire you as a form of discrimination or retaliation.
As you can imagine, proving that your termination was discriminatory or in retaliation to your questioning an employer's illegal action can be challenging. You will have difficulty proving your case without a Kansas City wrongful termination lawyer. Your lawyer will evaluate your situation and ensure you have an airtight case before filing a lawsuit against your former employer.
Understanding At-Will Employment
The Employment-At-Will doctrine in Missouri dictates that the employee or employer can end their working relationship for any reason, at any time. In an at-will state, you are not entitled to a warning, placement on a performance improvement plan, or the opportunity to speak on your behalf regarding the termination. At-will laws essentially give the employer the right to be "unfair" in their firing decisions as long as they do not cross certain boundaries.
Just because you work in an at-will state doesn't give your employer the right to fire you for discriminatory reasons. Your employer has behaved illegally if the termination decision was based on your religion, nation of origin, race, gender, age, pregnancy, disability, or veteran status.
If you complain to your employer about wage theft, sexual harassment, or any other unlawful act, and they fire you to punish you, that is an illegal action. Your employer also cannot fire you for participating in a workplace investigation regarding these inappropriate behaviors or participating in a case related to a discrimination claim.
Union or Government Workers
Unions exist to protect workers from unfair treatment by employers, so employees who are members of a union will often have more rights in the workplace than employees who are not union members. Each union has different rules, and whether a union protects employees from unfair termination will vary.
Government workers sometimes have different rules that apply to their firing as well. This exception is due to the nature of government work and the fact that it is often contracted. If your employment rights are outside the standard at-will law, you will typically have been informed during the hiring process. Additionally, if you are a union or government worker uncertain if your firing was legal, you'll want to contact an employment lawyer and union rep to discuss your questions.
You can be a contracted employee without being a government or union worker. In these circumstances, you will have signed a contract with your employer stating the conditions of your work agreement. The contract must be written and have been signed by both the employer and employee. Since each contract is different, just because you are a contracted employee who was terminated doesn't mean you automatically have a case against your employer.
Many employment contracts only require just cause for an employer to fire you, and it isn't difficult for most employers to put together a reason that they can defend in court. However, going over your employment contract with a wrongful termination lawyer will allow you to determine if your employer has breached the agreement by terminating you or if they acted within the contract's parameters.
Determining If You Have a Case
Believing you have a wrongful termination case and proving that you were wrongfully fired are two different things. Unfortunately, it can be extremely challenging to establish a discrimination or retaliation case because most employers are cautious about covering their tracks when acting outside of the law. You will need evidence to prove your case. This proof must demonstrate that the firing was directly due to your being a member of a protected class.
When you are the only person being fired, this can be easier to prove, as discrimination against you is more readily apparent. Proving discrimination when a company performs layoffs is challenging but still not impossible. For example, if you were chosen to be let go over someone less experienced who isn't in your protected class, you might have grounds for a claim.
Hire an Employment Lawyer in Kansas City, MO
Working with an employment lawyer will enable you to establish whether you have a valid wrongful termination claim and begin the process of seeking justice if you do. Employment law is not straightforward, so you will want a legal professional guiding you through filing a complaint and lawsuit against your employer if necessary.
You have the right to fair treatment in the workplace, and employers who discriminate or retaliate against employees should face repercussions for their illegal actions. If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated, reach out to an employment lawyer in Kansas City, MO, to discuss your situation immediately to ensure you don't miss your window for filing a lawsuit.