What You Should Know About Wrongful Termination
Posted on behalf of Lynch Law Firm on Aug 28, 2017 in Labor and Employment News
While the reason for your termination may seem inappropriate to you, only terminations for certain situations are considered wrongful in the eye of the law. In these situations, legal recourse may be appropriate.
The New Jersey labor and employment lawyers of Lynch Law Firm can help you determine if you have been wrongfully discharged and have a legal case. Learn the legal options available to you by scheduling a free consultation with our legal team.
What is Wrongful Termination?
In New Jersey, employment relationships are considered at-will. This means an employee can be terminated for any reason, at any time, without giving notice or a reason for the action. Likewise, an employee can leave a job at any time, for any reason, without facing consequences.
However, there are two exceptions to this general rule that could allow a termination to be considered wrongful:
- Public Policy – An employer may not terminate an employee for a reason that violates a clear mandate of public policy, this can include policy that is established in constitutional provisions, statutes, regulations and judicial decisions.
- Statutory Protection – Certain classes of people and those who engage in certain activities are protected from retaliation or wrongful termination by New Jersey statutes.
Some of these exceptions include:
Protected Classes of Employees
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination against individuals based on:
- National origin
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination provides additional protection from discrimination in the workplace based on:
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity or expression
- Military service
- Genetic information
- Atypical cellular or blood trait
Employees cannot be fired for belonging to one of these protected classes. However, it is important to note that this law only protects employees from adverse employment actions made because of their membership in one of these classes. This means an employee can be fired because he or she failed to perform the job correctly, but not because he or she is in a wheelchair.
Protected Employee Actions
The New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) protects employees from retaliation or discharge for certain types of conduct or actions. Known as New Jersey’s whistleblower statute, this law is one of the most comprehensive in the nation. It prevents an employer from taking any kind of retaliatory action, including termination, against an employee who:
- Reports discrimination to management
- Reports or refuses to participate in what he or she believes reasonably, and in good faith, to be management’s violation of public policy or engagement in fraudulent or illegal activities or policies
- Provides information to or testifies before an investigation, hearing or inquiry conducted by a public entity into a violation of law by the person’s employer or coworker
- Provides information about deception or misrepresentation of information to shareholders, investors, clients, patients, customers or a government entity
Additional actions that are protected by New Jersey statute include:
- Filing a workers’ compensation claim or testifying at a workers’ compensation hearing (N.J. Stat. § 34:15-39.1)
- Making a complaint or attempting to claim minimum wage or overtime pay (N.J. Stat. § 34:11-56a24)
- Reporting violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) (N.J. Stat. § 34:6A-45)
Protected Time Off
The New Jersey Family Leave Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 protect employees from retaliation for pursuing a leave of absence to tend to certain family members and medical situations. Under these acts employees are entitled to un-paid, job-protected leave for any of the following reasons:
- To care for a child after birth or placement with a child for adoption or foster care
- To care for a spouse (including civil union partner or eligible same-sex partner), son or daughter, or parent who has a serious health condition
- To tend to a serious health condition that prevents the employee from working
A serious health condition is defined as one that requires inpatient care in a hospital, hospice or residential medical facility or continuing medical treatment or supervision from a health care provider.
How Do I File a Complaint for Wrongful Termination?
If you suspect you have been wrongfully terminated, the type of complaint you can file will depend on the circumstances of your situation. If you believe you have a claim, you should contact a trusted labor and employment attorney as soon as possible.
Claims of discrimination can be filed with either the:
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – Generally, charges of discrimination must be filed within 180 days, however, that deadline can be extended to 300 days in certain circumstances.
- New Jersey Division on Civil Rights – Complaints must be filed within 180 days after the alleged act of discrimination. Once filed, the agency will investigate the complaint to determine if there is probable cause to support the allegations. The case may be referred to an Administrative Law Judge who may hold hearings to resolve the matter. The employee may be able to recover reinstatement, hiring or upgrading, along with back pay and damages for pain and humiliation and possibly attorneys’ fees.
Under CEPA, employees who feel they have been fired for filing a whistleblower claim have one year from the incident to file a civil lawsuit, which may enable them to be reinstated with full benefits and to receive full back pay, benefits and reasonable attorneys’ fees.
If you believe you were fired for exercising your rights under the New Jersey Family Leave Act, you must file a complaint with The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights within 180 days of the incident. The agency will investigate your claim to determine if you have a claim.
Contact the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division to report violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. In general, claims must be filed within two years of the violation.
A complaint must be filed with the Division of Workers’ Compensation of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development within two years after an employee experiences retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim. You may be able to be reinstated to your previous position and recover payment for lost wages.
Occupational Health and Safety
New Jersey public employees who feel they have been wrongfully discharged for filing a safety or health complaint can file a discrimination complaint with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Employees of privately owned companies must file a complaint with the U.S. OSHA.
Get Legal Help with Your Wrongful Discharge Claim
If you suspect your rights have been violated and that you were wrongfully terminated, you should contact a trusted New Jersey labor and employment attorney as soon as possible to discuss your legal options.
There are short deadlines for filing retaliation and discrimination claims, so you must contact an attorney as soon as possible to help ensure your claim is filed within the established deadline. If you miss the deadline, you will not be able to file a claim.
Contact Lynch Law Firm today for a free, no obligation consultation to get started.
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