Certain laws exist that place restrictions on employers who wish to let go of an employee. Employers, for example, are not allowed to fire an employee because he or she practices a specific kind of religion, or because of the employee’s ancestry or cultural heritage. Should an employer violate the law or breach the terms of an existing contract with the employee, the employee can seek legal action against the employer.
At-Will Employment in North Dakota
North Dakota, along with most other states in the country, is an “at-will” employment state, meaning that workers are employed at the will of the employer. In the absence of a formal employment contract stating otherwise, both the employer and employee are free to end the employment relationship at any time and for any reason, with no advance notice required. This may give employers the false impression that they have free reign to fire their employees. However, in some cases certain exceptions may exist that limit an employer’s ability to terminate her or his employees.
Wrongful Termination in North Dakota
In North Dakota, even “at-will” employees are legally protected from being fired in some instances. Should an employer fire an employee for discriminatory reasons, in retaliation for the employee exercising his or her rights, or in violation of an existing employment agreement, that employer may be subject to a legal claim by the fired employee. The employee can sue for such things as lost pay, lost benefits, emotional and punitive damages, and attorney fees.
Breach of Contract: If a written contract or employment agreement exists between the employer and employee, that employee is no longer an at-will employee and the employer must adhere to the terms of the contract. Employment contracts often include terms such as how long the position will last or the circumstances under which the employee may be fired. If the employee is fired without cause, as set forth in the contract, the employer may be sued for breach of contract. North Dakota also recognizes employee handbooks as a form of contract. Therefore, if an employee handbook states an employer must take certain actions before firing an employee, any violation of that policy would also be considered a breach of contract.
Discrimination: Federal law prohibits employers from firing workers based on a protected class. These include color, race, national origin, sex, religion, pregnancy, disability and age. However, the federal law applies only to employers who have a minimum number of employees. Under North Dakota law, employers are prohibited from employment discrimination based on color, race, national origin, sex, pregnancy, religion, age, marital status or receipt of public assistance, even if they only have one employee.
Retaliation: Federal and state employment laws also prevent employers from retaliating against employees for asserting their rights. For example, if an employee files a complaint that he or she believes they were passed over for promotion because of a disability, the employer cannot reprimand or fire that employee for making a complaint. In addition, an employer cannot terminate an employee for taking part in an investigation against the company or for testifying in court. Employees are also protected from termination if they refuse to take part in an activity that is illegal or is in violation of a state or federal law. North Dakota also protects employees who engage in protected activities such as labor organization, smoking, and filing complaints related to wage discrimination and workers’ compensation.
Public Policy: In North Dakota and many other states, there exists an exception to at will employment for circumstances of public policy. This means an employee cannot be terminated if such a firing goes against a clearly established public policy. For example, North Dakota law allows employees to file for workers’ compensation. Therefore, if an employer fires an employee for such a filing, it would be in violation of that public policy.
The content on our website is only meant to provide general information and is not legal advice. We make our best efforts to make sure the information is accurate, but we cannot guarantee it. Do not rely on the content as legal advice. For assistance with legal problems or for a legal inquiry please contact you attorney.