Rules that govern whether or not a worker’s firing is lawful are known as wrongful termination laws. These laws can cover a range of topics, including firings related to discriminatory issues (such as those based on religion, race or color, sex, etc.) or those that are in retaliation for an employee participating in a legally protected act. Wrongfully terminating a worker can result in significant financial penalties and other serious legal ramifications. Accordingly, employers must be aware of all relevant regulations to avoid dismissing a worker under illegal circumstances.
At-will Employment in Connecticut
Much like many other states, Connecticut offers at-will employment to most workers. As a result, employers are neither obligated to provide a reason or cause for an employee’s firing, nor are they obligated to provide any advanced notice when a termination occurs. Additionally, employers can terminate one’s employment at any time they see fit. Despite the Colorado’s adherence to the at-will employment doctrine, there are exceptions to existing laws that employers must follow to ensure any firings are well-within the valid legal limitations.
Wrongful Termination in Connecticut
Wrongful termination occurs when an employer in Connecticut fails to honor one of the existing exceptions to the current at-will employment guidelines. Wrongful termination claims can incur significant legal consequences for employers, which demonstrates the importance of following all pertinent wrongful termination laws. Wrongfully terminating an employee may obligate an employer to remit wages owed (back and front), as well as cover legal fees incurred by an employee during the course of a court hearing. Employers will also be responsible for any punitive damages awarded and, in some cases, may be ordered to reinstate the employment of a terminated worker.
Breach of Contract: Even in those states that recognize at-will employment statutes, contracts in place between employers and employees will take precedent over existing laws. This includes oral as well as written contracts, and also covers collective bargaining agreements affecting union workers. Because contracts often spell out the exact circumstances in which an employee is permitted to be fired or establish timelines for the length of a worker’s employment, employers subsequently lose their ability to terminate a working relationship freely.
Discrimination: Discriminatory practices often feature in employee claims of wrongful termination. Federal law stipulates that employers are not permitted to fire a worker for the following reasons: sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age, genetic makeup, race and/or color, disability, age, etc. Along with these federal protections, Connecticut recognizes a number of additional protected classes, including marital or civil union status, gender expression, sexual orientation and those afflicted with HIV/AIDS.
Retaliation: Employers in Connecticut are not permitted to fire an employee in retaliation for what is deemed a necessary or legally protected act. Protected acts are those that adhere to existing laws (ex. refusing to participate in dangerous or illegal activities), notifying an authority of a violation, claiming appropriate wages (ex. requesting overtime pay or the appropriate minimum wage rate), filing a claim related to a workplace injury, etc. Federal law also offers protections to employees engaged in what are known as whistleblower activities. Whistleblower protections are closely related to the retaliation exception and permit employees to freely make known workplace violations without fear of reprisal. In Connecticut, both public and private sector employees are covered under the state’s whistleblower laws.
Public Policy: Connecticut employers must also be familiar with the public policy doctrine. This stipulates that workers cannot be fired for engaging in certain activities considered to be performed on behalf of the public. While this exception can vary in its interpretation, employers generally cannot terminate a worker for notifying authorities of workplace violations, refusing to break a law at the request of an employer, exercising a legally protected right or taking part in acts deemed to be in the public’s best interest.
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