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Understanding Wrongful Termination

Many individuals who work in Georgia are already aware of the fact that their employment is “at will.” What that means is that an employer in Georgia is allowed to terminate an individual for practically any reason. Georgia courts typically state that an employee can be terminated for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all. So how can someone working in Georgia be “wrongfully terminated?” The answer is that there is no generic claim in Georgia for “wrongful termination.” Instead, there are various specific claims—such as retaliation, discrimination, or breach of contract—that sometimes arise when an employee is terminated.

At-Will Employment

At-will employees can be terminated for things as simple as not getting along with managers or wearing a pair of pants that a supervisor does not like. However, there are limitations to the employer’s right to terminate workers. For example, if an employee is hired and working under an employment agreement for a finite term of employment that specifically states that the employee can only be terminated for just cause, the employer must abide by the terms of that agreement.

Furthermore, individuals who work for government agencies or who are members of unions often have very specific procedures for termination. That said, determining whether or not a termination was lawful can be tricky; an attorney can assist with making a proper determination based on a specific set of facts.

Examples of Wrongful Termination

What is important for employees to realize is that there are no laws that are specifically deemed to be “wrongful termination laws.” However, the violation of certain federal laws can constitute wrongful termination. For example, an employee might have cause to file a wrongful termination lawsuit if he or she was terminated in violation of state or federal discrimination laws that govern discrimination on the basis of a person’s sex, religion, race, age or disability. Additionally, if a public employer terminates an employee in violation of an individual’s First Amendment rights, that employer can be subject to a wrongful termination suit.

Retaliation

Employees should also be aware that it is illegal for an employer to fire or retaliate against an employee for engaging in certain kinds of “protected conduct.” If an employee believes in good faith that his or her employee is violating a federal law—such as the FLSA, FMLA, FCA, ADA, ADEA, or Title VII—and complaints about the violation, the employee’s complaint is “protected” and cannot form the basis for discipline or termination. If the employer terminates the employee because of the employee’s complaint, the employee may have a claim for retaliation.

Severance Agreements

Some employees are given severance agreements when they are terminated. Such agreements generally call for the employee to sign a release of claims against the employer in exchange for severance payments. Individuals who have been presented such agreements are strongly urged to speak with an attorney prior to signing a severance agreement. A recently-terminated individual is rarely in a position to determine the value and merit of the potential claims that the employer seeks to extinguish by means of the severance agreement.