Telling someone to pack up their desks and find a new place to work is generally not a pleasant experience. Some disgruntled terminated employees may take legal action against their employer for wrongful termination, claiming that they were fired for illegal reasons. Alaskan business owners should be aware these illegal reasons and always make sure to only fire an employee for legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons.
Under at-will employment laws, an employer can terminate an employee at any time for any legal reason, without warning. Illegal reasons for termination include:
- Discrimination – Firing an employee because of their membership in a protected class (e.g. race, gender, age)
- Retaliation – Terminating an employee for engaging in a protected activity (e.g. reporting harassment, reporting safety violations).
- Whistleblowing – Terminating an employee for reporting the employer’s illegal conduct, OSHA violation, etc.
- Breach of contract – Firing an employee for a reason that violates the employee’s employment contract.
- Public policy – Firing an employee in violation of public policy (e.g. terminating an employee for failing to engage in illegal activity on behalf of the employer or failing to take FMLA leave they were legally entitled to take)
- Lie detector refusal – Firing an employee for refusing to take a lie detector.
- Aliens – Firing an employee that is legally eligible for U.S. employment because of their alien status.
What should you do if you are sued for wrongful termination?
Savvy employers keep a careful record of all interactions with their employees, including correspondence between the employer and employee, performance reviews, and records of disciplinary actions taken. These records will help employers establish that the employee was terminated for legitimate reasons, such as poor performance, insubordination, or poor attendance. An attorney specializing in employment law matters can help protect your business’ reputation, as well as its finances.