Protecting Your Business from a Wrongful Termination Claim
Washington DC is what’s known as an “at will” employment district, which means an employer can typically let someone go from their job for any reason and at any time. While this is generally true, there are a number of federal and District of Columbia statutes that have created exemptions that would make it a violation to terminate someone under those conditions.
Knowing federal and state employment and labor laws is important. This is why it’s critical to have a Washington DC employment and labor law attorney on retainer. Your attorney can review your human resources manuals, company policies, and advise you on the areas where you could run into trouble with your hiring and firing practices.
Wrongful termination also includes employees who feel they were discriminated against, which may involve covered federal protections until Title VII and other related laws. You cannot fire someone because of their sex, race, age, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or disability, for example. If you fire someone who has presented a lawful whistleblower claim in connection with potential unlawful or fraudulent activity, there may be separate protections available to whistleblowers.
There are some situations where an employee may feel they were wrongfully terminated, but it does not fall under the federal or local protections. You have a right to let someone go who you believe made a mistake on their job, or perhaps you do not get along with the employee and they do not fit well within the department. As long as those terminations were based on the wrongdoing or attitude problem rather than based on discriminatory practices, you should not be at risk.
What Remedies do Wrongfully Terminated Employees Have?
If you have a former employee who is claiming wrongful termination, you need to know what potential risks you are facing. Some of the remedies afforded to wrongfully terminated employees include:
- Reinstatement of position
- Reinstatement of seniority and benefits
- Compensation for emotional stress
- Back pay
- Mandatory HR policy changes to protect other employees
- Attorney’s fees and court costs
- Potential punitive damages in some cases to keep an employer from engaging in this behavior again
As the employer, you are also subject to potential penalties resulting from your failure to abide by federal and/or state employment standards. Some of these may include:
- Garnishment — if you discriminate based on child support withholding, which can include not responding to garnishment requests within 90 days, you could be fined up to $10,000 which would be paid to the employee to cover child support payments.
- Jury duty — Not allowing someone to attend jury duty could result in a criminal contempt of court with a fine of up to $300 and/or 30 days in jail for the first offense. The second offense rises to up to a $5,000 fine and/or 180 days in jail, and you’re liable to the employee for their lost wages, reinstatement of their job, and any attorney’s fees.
- Whistleblower — If you fired someone in retaliation for being a whistleblower, they can file a civil suit against you within a one-year statute of limitations.
Contact a Washington DC Employment Law Attorney
If you have a business in the Washington DC area, contact the knowledgeable employment law attorneys at Tobin, O’Connor & Ewing at 202-362-5900 to schedule a consultation.