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In Georgia, employment is “at-will.” This means that an employer may terminate an employee for any reason that is not a violation of an employment contract or otherwise illegal. Wrongful termination claims may therefore arise when the firing is based on unlawful discrimination, retaliation, or an employee’s use of leave permitted under the Family or Medical Leave Act (FMLA). If you believe that you may have a wrongful termination issue, skilled employment discrimination lawyers at Parks, Chesin & Walbert can review the facts and advise you on your rights.When Does an Employee Have a Wrongful Termination Claim Based on a Breach of Contract?
If an employment contract guarantees employment for a specified term, the employer may be liable for wrongful termination if it fires the worker during the term. Union members may be employed under a collective bargaining agreement that, if breached, could form the basis of a wrongful termination claim.
Even if there is no signed employment contract, employees can sometimes establish the existence of an implied contract through the employer’s policies and procedures, employee handbook, and other documents and conduct. Since O.C.G.A. § 34-7-1 states that either party may terminate an indefinite hiring at will, Georgia courts generally do not recognize a wrongful termination claim based on the breach of a contract that does not have a specified duration. It is therefore difficult for an employee to recover damages in this situation.What Types of Discrimination Can Lead to a Wrongful Termination?
Discrimination that results in termination and that is based on membership in a federally-protected class can lead to a wrongful termination claim. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from discrimination based on sex, race, religion, and national origin. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1964 (ADEA) prohibits discrimination based on the age of a person who is 40 or older. Discrimination based on an employee’s disability is prohibited by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Termination based on an employee’s membership in any of these protected classes could lead to a wrongful termination claim.What is Retaliation?
Retaliation occurs in the employment context when the employer takes an adverse action against an employee for engaging in legally protected activities. Employers cannot retaliate against workers for filing a complaint against the employer for discrimination or violations of wage and hour laws. There are also laws protecting certain “whistleblowers,” which cover people who report violations of workplace safety, environmental, financial, and healthcare laws. Employers are also prohibited from retaliating against an employee for filing a workers’ compensation claim or taking leave under the FMLA.What if an Employer Lies About the Reason for Termination?
Even if the employer claims that the termination was for a permissible reason, an employee may be able to establish that the claimed reason for termination is merely a pretext and that the termination was wrongful. Evidence that the employer’s stated reasons for the termination have changed over time may support an employee’s claim that those reasons are merely a series of pretexts. Evidence that other employees who engaged in similar conduct were not disciplined or fired may also support the claim. If the termination occurs shortly after the employee engaged in legally protected conduct, the timing may suggest that the true motive behind the adverse action was improper.What Should I do if I Have a Wrongful Termination Issue in Georgia?
If you have a legal question or concern related to wrongful termination, you should not hesitate to contact Georgia employment law attorneys at Parks, Chesin & Walbert. Depending on the nature of the claims involved, an employee’s time to act may be measured in days. Even if a firing has not occurred yet, a worker suspecting that a wrongful termination may happen should seek the advice of a knowledgeable attorney to protect his or her rights. Employers should seek counsel to ensure that they comply with all appropriate laws. Parks, Chesin & Walbert has a thorough understanding of employment law issues. Contact us through our online form or at 877-986-5529 to schedule a consultation.