What Is Wrongful Termination?

Wrongful Termination

Wrongful termination, often dubbed as "wrongful dismissal" or "wrongful discharge", is a compelling topic in numerous states across the country. In essence, wrongful termination refers to the act of firing an employee even if they committed no errors such as misconduct, nor were there plausible business circumstances leading to the dismissal.

Examples of wrongful termination

Breach of Contract

One commonly crossed line involves a breach of contract. If a company violates a written contract or the employee handbook, that can constitute wrongful termination. For instance, if an employer fires an employee after a single verbal warning, despite the handbook specifying a three-step procedure, they're ignoring agreed-upon rules.


Harassment within a hostile work environment is another prime example. Negative comments or unwelcome advances are types of harassment. When individuals endure such behavior and then face termination for seeking help or voicing discomfort, that's a case of wrongful discharge.


Discrimination, be it based on race, religion, age, or sexual orientation, is a serious violation of the law. If an employee is dismissed on any such grounds, they're victims of wrongful dismissal.

Constructive Dismissal

Next, there's constructive dismissal. Consider a case where an employee quits because the harassment or discriminatory behavior at work made staying intolerable. This scenario could qualify as wrongful termination, as they were essentially forced out.


In retaliation cases, employees lose their jobs due to their resistance to illegal activities within the company. Whether they've rejected inappropriate advances or voiced concerns over sketchy practices, retaliatory dismissal is unlawful.

Violation of Public Policy

Dismissal that violates public policy is another category here. This applies when an employee is terminated for taking time off to serve on a jury or to vote, which are recognized public duties.


Finally, whistleblowing is a potent trigger for wrongful termination. If an employee is fired for reporting illegal activity within the company, that's a clear case of wrongful dismissal.

While these are some of the typical examples of wrongful termination, it's crucial to remember that every case carries unique circumstances - making it important to seek professional legal advice whenever such situations arise.

How can HR teams avoid wrongful termination?

Document Everything

Every interaction, performance review, or disciplinary action involving an employee must be meticulously documented and safely stored. This provides tangible proof of fair practices and acts as insurance should a wrongful termination claim ever pop up. It's not just about avoiding lawsuits—it's about preserving an atmosphere of respect and fairness.

Audit for Compliance

Regular compliance audits are crucial for organizations. They aim to ensure adherence to employment laws, industry-specific regulations, and internal policies. Frequent reviews of termination circumstances help identify risky patterns or biases, enabling proactive adjustments. A simple audit today might just save a tremendous headache tomorrow.

Have a Conversation with the Employee

Communication is key. If an employee's performance isn’t up to par, it’s essential to talk it out. Provide constructive feedback, highlight areas needing improvement, and offer development opportunities. These discussions should be regular and documented, not one-off confrontations. Remember, it's easier to mend fences than to build new ones.

Include a Severance Agreement

A well-structured severance agreement can help soften a termination's impact and reduces the likelihood of a wrongful termination lawsuit. Transparency about rights, obligations, and benefits in exchange for releasing potential legal claims can create a mutually beneficial accord. Using a severance agreement isn't admitting to wrongdoing; it's smart planning for unanticipated circumstances.