What is wrongful termination in violation of public policy?
Get Legal Help Today
Secured with SHA-256 Encryption
UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021
It’s all about you. We want to help you make the right legal decisions.
We strive to help you make confident insurance and legal decisions. Finding trusted and reliable insurance quotes and legal advice should be easy. This doesn’t influence our content. Our opinions are our own.
Editorial Guidelines: We are a free online resource for anyone interested in learning more about legal topics and insurance. Our goal is to be an objective, third-party resource for everything legal and insurance related. We update our site regularly, and all content is reviewed by experts.
The basic concept of wrongful termination in violation of public policy is that employers cannot terminate an otherwise at-will employee if the termination would violate the “public policy”. What does that mean? To be the basis of a wrongful termination action, the policy in question must be well established and substantial and it must be based on either a statute or constitutional provision. There are obvious violations of “public policy,” such as terminating an employee for refusing to fire another employee because that employee is black and over 40 years of age. But there is plenty of “gray area” as well. A typical scenario is when an employee engages in a “protected activity” and the employer fires him or her “because of” or in “retaliation” for engaging in that protected activity”.
The reason that these types of terminations violate public policy is because it is good public policy to encourage employees to refuse to engage in activities that violate the law, or to allow their employers to engage in such activities. Protecting employees in the event they witness or are pressured into engaging in illegal actitivies, or in the event they act to protect their own rights, promotes respect for the law by employers and encourages lawful behavior. It also allows employees to protect themselves and fight for their own rights without fear of retaliation from employers.
Protected activities: Wrongful termination claims usually are based on one of the following categories of “protected activities”:
(1) Terminations expressly prohibited by statute;
(2) Terminations where the employee has exercised a constitutional or statutory right or privilege;
(3) Terminations for refusing to engage in conduct that is unlawful; and
(4) Terminations for reporting alleged unlawful conduct by the employer. This is sometimes called “whistleblowing.” For more information, read our section on the subject.