Wrongful termination in New Jersey is when you have been dismissed, let go, fired or otherwise terminated for an illegal or prohibited reason. Being wrongfully terminated means that you have a legal right to sue your employer on grounds that your termination goes against New Jersey state and federal laws.
Can I Sue for Wrongful Termination in an Employment-At-Will State?
Since New Jersey is an employment-at-will state, any business may hire or fire personnel as they see fit, without cause or justification. Likewise, employees can choose to leave a job without cause and suffer no legal consequences.
How, then, can you sue an employer for wrongful termination if New Jersey is an employment-at-will state? There are two major exceptions to the employment-at-will protection. If your termination breaks an implied contract or goes against any public policy, you have a right to sue for wrongful termination.
Implied Contract Exception to Employment-At-Will
Most job offers come with some sort of written employment contract provided by the employer that the new hire must sign. These contracts typically state work policy for required hours, pay, absences, and benefits if any are offered. If your written contract included stipulations on duration of employment or limitations to how you can be fired, you have an obvious case for breach of contract if you are fired contrary to those written stipulations.
However, some job offers are implied and not explicit. They can be verbal offers rather than written contracts or even general implications based on situations you witness over the course of working. One of the most common sources for the implied contract exception is based upon employee handbooks.
If any guidelines are given in an employee handbook on topics like attendance, promotions, termination or other employment factors, these have been used in recent wrongful termination cases as an implied contract. Such handbooks may make mention that an employee will only be disciplined or fired for “just cause.” By stating something like that, the employer has exempted themselves from the employment-at-will protections because their handbook can be taken as an implied contract requiring cause for dismissal.
Similar to implied contract is breach of good faith. While New Jersey is not one of the eleven states that protects against all breaches of good faith, some cases have been proven to be wrongful termination. If an employee is fired after many years on the job with a clean record, but is terminated as they near retirement age or pension benefits, these circumstances are suspect and could be grounds for possible wrongful termination.
Public Policy Exception to Employment-At-Will
In New Jersey, the majority of wrongful termination cases fall under the public policy exemption to the employment-at-will laws. This occurs whenever termination is due discrimination, which breaks well-known policy or federal or state law.
Well-known policies like the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Workers’ Compensation are required by law and cannot be used as a catalyst for termination. No employer may fire a worker for using these public policies. Any termination that was due to use of policy negates the employment-at-will doctrine and opens up a company to wrongful termination suits.
Beyond policy usage, this exception also applies to termination due an employer breaking any established laws or an employee refusing to break laws upon the employer’s request. If an employer mandates that a worker break a law, such as offer dishonest testimony or partake in fraud, employees have the right to refuse. Therefore, an employer cannot terminate employment as a result of this refusal to break the law.
Likewise, if an employer behaves in a harassing or discriminatory manner, as is prohibited by New Jersey’s Laws Against Discrimination (LAD), an employee may not be terminated for reporting the actions or refusing to partake in suggested behaviors. No employee may be terminated based on his or her gender, race, religion, age, disability, or other protected characteristic under the LAD.
You also cannot be fired for reporting discriminatory or harassing behaviors to your HR department, superiors, or other public entities. Whistleblower laws are in place to protect your right to speak out about illegal or discriminatory activity. You cannot be terminated for reporting fraud, discrimination, harassment, or other illegal activity in the workplace.
Were You Wrongfully Terminated?
If you believe you were wrongfully terminated based on discrimination, use of public policy, or broken implied contract, you may be entitled to compensation for lost wages. In order to file a wrongful termination complaint against your employer, it is a good idea to hire an experienced employment attorney to guide you through the process.
The attorneys at Castronovo & McKinney handle many New Jersey wrongful termination complaints each year. We are ready to hear from you today to offer a free initial consultation of your case. We will listen to all of the pertinent details of your experience and help you to determine if you were, in fact, wrongfully terminated. If so, we will build your case through questioning and other investigative procedures. We will initiate all filings on your behalf and keep you updated with each step of the process.
Whether we negotiate terms with your employer or bring your case to court, it is our mission to help you to understand and navigate the process from start to finish. Your right to work is protected by law and no one should abuse that right. If you feel you were wrongfully terminated from your job, contact our offices today and let us fight for you.