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The Empuls Glossary

Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms

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Wrongful termination occurs when an employee is fired or laid off for reasons that violate employment laws, public policy, or the terms of an employment contract.

What is wrongful termination?

Wrongful termination, also known as wrongful dismissal or discharge, occurs when an employer terminates an employee in a way that violates company policy, regulations, or an employment contract. This typically means the employee is fired without enough notice, just cause, or the correct severance pay.

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What are the forms of wrongful termination?

The forms of wrongful termination are:

  • Breach of contract: If an employment contract or agreement specifies certain terms and conditions of employment, including the circumstances under which termination may occur, terminating an employee in violation of those contractual obligations may constitute wrongful termination.
  • Violation of public policy: Firing an employee for reasons that contravene public policy or statutory protections, such as refusing to engage in illegal activities, exercising voting rights, or taking time off for jury duty, may be deemed wrongful termination.
  • Constructive discharge: Constructive discharge occurs when an employer creates intolerable working conditions or engages in harassment or discrimination to compel an employee to resign. In such cases, resignation is considered involuntary, and the employee may have grounds for a wrongful termination claim.
  • Discrimination: Terminating an employee based on protected characteristics such as race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, genetic information, or pregnancy is considered discriminatory and unlawful under employment discrimination laws.

Where can an employee get help if they’ve been wrongfully terminated?

Here are some options for employees who have been wrongfully terminated:

1. Employment law attorney

Consulting with an experienced employment law attorney is often the first step for employees who believe they have been wrongfully terminated.  An attorney can assess the circumstances of the termination, review relevant documentation, and provide guidance on the employee's legal rights and options.  An attorney can also represent the employee in negotiations, administrative proceedings, or legal actions against the employer.

2. Labor unions

Employees who are members of labor unions may seek assistance from their union representatives or stewards in addressing wrongful termination claims. Labor unions can provide support, advocacy, and representation for members facing workplace disputes or disciplinary actions, including filing grievances, negotiating settlements, or pursuing arbitration or litigation.

3. Employee assistance programs (EAPs)

Many employers offer employee assistance programs that provide confidential counseling, support services, and resources for employees facing workplace challenges, including wrongful termination. EAPs can offer guidance, referrals to legal resources, and assistance in navigating the emotional and practical aspects of wrongful termination.

4. Legal aid organizations

Employees who are unable to afford private legal representation may be eligible for assistance from legal aid organizations or pro bono legal clinics that offer free or low-cost legal services to individuals with limited financial means. These organizations can provide legal advice, representation, and advocacy for employees facing wrongful termination and other employment-related issues.

5. Community and advocacy groups

Community-based organizations, advocacy groups, and nonprofit organizations focused on workers' rights and social justice may offer support, resources, and referrals for employees who have been wrongfully terminated. These organizations may provide informational materials, workshops, support groups, and advocacy campaigns to empower employees and promote workplace fairness and equality.

How can employers avoid wrongful termination lawsuits?

Here are some strategies that employers can implement to avoid wrongful termination lawsuits:

1. Know and comply with employment laws

Educate managers, supervisors, and HR personnel about federal, state, and local employment laws and regulations governing termination, including anti-discrimination laws, anti-retaliation protections, and requirements for notice and severance pay. Ensure that termination decisions are made in compliance with applicable laws and regulations.

2. Establish clear policies and procedures

Develop and communicate clear and consistent policies and procedures for discipline, performance evaluation, and termination. Ensure that employees understand the expectations for conduct, performance, and behavior in the workplace and the consequences for violations of company policies.

3. Provide training and education

Provide training and education for managers, supervisors, and HR personnel on effective management practices, conflict resolution, communication skills, and legal compliance. Training programs should emphasize the importance of fair and equitable treatment of employees and the consequences of unlawful conduct.

4. Document performance and conduct issues

Maintain accurate and detailed documentation of employee performance, conduct, and disciplinary actions. Document verbal warnings, written reprimands, performance evaluations, and any other relevant information related to employee performance or behavior. Documenting performance and conduct issues can help support termination decisions and demonstrate a legitimate basis for the termination if challenged.

5. Conduct fair and impartial investigations

Conduct prompt, thorough, and impartial investigations in response to complaints, grievances, or allegations of misconduct or wrongdoing. Ensure that investigations are conducted in accordance with company policies and legal requirements, and that employees are afforded due process and fair treatment throughout the investigation process.

6. Promote open communication

Encourage open communication, feedback, and dialogue between managers, supervisors, and employees to address concerns, resolve conflicts, and identify opportunities for improvement. Establish channels for employees to raise complaints or grievances without fear of retaliation and ensure that complaints are addressed promptly and effectively.

7. Review and update policies regularly

Regularly review and update employment policies, procedures, and practices to ensure compliance with changing legal requirements, industry standards, and organizational needs. Stay informed about developments in employment law and best practices for termination and employee relations management.

How can an employee prove wrongful termination?

Here are some common steps that an employee can take to prove wrongful termination:

1. Documenting events and communications

Keep records of relevant events, communications, and interactions with supervisors, HR personnel, and colleagues leading up to and following the termination. This may include emails, performance evaluations, disciplinary notices, employment contracts, and any other documentation related to the employment relationship.

2. Reviewing company policies and procedures

Familiarize yourself with the employer's policies and procedures, including the employee handbook, code of conduct, and termination policies. If the termination violated company policies or procedures, document any discrepancies or violations.

3. Identifying witnesses

Identify any witnesses who may have observed or have knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the termination. Witnesses may include colleagues, supervisors, HR personnel, or other individuals who can provide relevant testimony or evidence to support your case.

4. Seeking legal advice

Consult with an experienced employment law attorney who can assess the circumstances of your termination, review relevant documentation, and advise you on your legal rights and options. An attorney can help you understand the legal standards for wrongful termination claims and develop a strategy for pursuing legal remedies.

5. Gathering supporting evidence

Gather supporting evidence that supports your claim of wrongful termination, such as performance evaluations, employment contracts, emails or memos documenting positive feedback or awards, witness statements, and any other relevant documentation that corroborates your version of events.

6. Identifying motives or patterns

If applicable, identify any motives or patterns of discrimination, retaliation, or other unlawful conduct by the employer that may have influenced the termination decision. This may include evidence of discriminatory treatment, past complaints or grievances, or disparities in treatment compared to other employees.

Employee pulse surveys:

These are short surveys that can be sent frequently to check what your employees think about an issue quickly. The survey comprises fewer questions (not more than 10) to get the information quickly. These can be administered at regular intervals (monthly/weekly/quarterly).

One-on-one meetings:

Having periodic, hour-long meetings for an informal chat with every team member is an excellent way to get a true sense of what’s happening with them. Since it is a safe and private conversation, it helps you get better details about an issue.


eNPS (employee Net Promoter score) is one of the simplest yet effective ways to assess your employee's opinion of your company. It includes one intriguing question that gauges loyalty. An example of eNPS questions include: How likely are you to recommend our company to others? Employees respond to the eNPS survey on a scale of 1-10, where 10 denotes they are ‘highly likely’ to recommend the company and 1 signifies they are ‘highly unlikely’ to recommend it.

Based on the responses, employees can be placed in three different categories:

  • Promoters
    Employees who have responded positively or agreed.
  • Detractors
    Employees who have reacted negatively or disagreed.
  • Passives
    Employees who have stayed neutral with their responses.

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