In the majority of states, employment is deemed to be “at will.” This holds true for New Jersey as well. In an at will employment state, an employer can essentially terminate an employee for any reason or no reason at all. This is true unless, of course, the reason violates the rights of an employee. An employee is also not considered to be subject to the restrictions of at will employment when the employee has a contract in place, such as teacher tenure. While at will employees may be terminated for reasons that may seem objectively or subjectively unfair, they still may not be terminated for reasons that are illegal. When an employee is terminated in violation of his or her lawfully protected rights, it is deemed to be a wrongful termination. In New Jersey, wrongful termination is illegal.
What is Considered Wrongful Termination in New Jersey?
Wrongful termination occurs when an employee has been fired in a way or for a reason that violates the employee’s rights. The fact that New Jersey is an “at will” employment state can make it tricky to determine and prove whether a termination was wrongful, but it is not impossible. A termination may be considered wrongful if the termination was:
- Discriminatory in nature on the basis of a protected class characteristic of the employee such as age, race, sex, national origin, religion, disability, and sexual orientation
- Retaliatory in nature due to the employee’s whistleblower status attributed to the employee reporting illegal activity of an employer or co-worker or participating in an investigation relating to such
- Retaliatory in nature due to the employee engaging in other protected activities such as requesting family leave time off under FMLA or pursuing workers compensation benefits
Those employees who have been the victims of wrongful termination can file wrongful termination claims seeking damages for harm suffered. New Jersey law allows such wrongfully terminated employees to seek compensation for a range of damages that may have been the result of a wrongful termination, including:
- Lost wages
- Loss of health care coverage and other benefits
- Attorney’s fees
- Court costs
- Emotional distress
Victims of wrongful termination may also be granted reinstatement in the formerly held employment position along with restoration of full benefits. In cases where the employer’s actions were particularly egregious or malicious, the court may order payment from the employer to the employee of punitive damages. While punitive damages do go to the victim, they are not intended to compensate the victim for a wrong suffered. Instead, punitive damages are intended to punish the perpetrator of the wrongdoing and hopefully deter such behavior from occurring in the future by the employer or other companies.
New Jersey Employment Law Attorneys
Termination can be stressful enough. If you think you have been wrongfully terminated, you may be left reeling. Do not worry. The dedicated team of employment law attorneys at Castronovo & McKinney is here for you. We provide trusted legal support to our clients when they need it the most. Contact us today.