Most private sector, non-union employees are "employees at will." That means that the employer can fire the employee without warning for any reason it likes, unless the reason is illegal. "Wrongful termination" is shorthand for "wrongful termination in violation of public policy." A wrongful termination case is a claim that an employer has fired an employee for an illegal reason not specifically prohibited by a statute or regulation. A discharge is not "wrongful" or illegal just because the employer has acted unfairly, fired a worker without giving a reason, or made a false accusation.
Examples of wrongful discharge include terminating an employee because she complained about or refused to participate in illegal actions such as fraud or embezzlement in the workplace; discharging someone because he performed a public duty such as serving on a jury; or dismissing a worker because she exercised a legal right, such as taking leave to deal with domestic violence.
In a wrongful termination case, the plaintiff must meet four elements:
- Clarity: The plaintiff must prove the existence of a clear mandate of public policy.
- Jeopardy: The plaintiff must prove that discouraging the conduct in which the employee engaged would jeopardize the public policy.
- Causation: The plaintiff must prove that the public-policy-linked conduct caused the dismissal.
- Absence of Justification: The defendant must not be able to offer an overriding justification for the dismissal.
In recent years, the Washington Supreme Court has made it much more difficult for employees to bring wrongful termination claims. It is critical for someone who believes he or she might have a wrongful termination claim to consult with lawyers who know the latest legal developments in this ever-changing area. At Frank Freed Subit & Thomas we provide our clients with that knowledge and expertise.
Over the past 25 years we have handled many wrongful termination cases for our clients. Frank Freed Subit & Thomas has litigated cutting-edge wrongful discharge issues in the Washington Supreme Court. One of our firm's attorneys wrote the book-chapter on wrongful discharge for the Washington Association of Justice.