When it comes to terminating a worker’s employment, employers must be sure they comply with any existing wrongful termination laws. Wrongful termination occurs when an employee’s firing violates employment regulations, whether state or federal. For instance, firings deemed discriminatory due to race and/or skin color, religious beliefs, ethnicity, nation of origin, etc. would be in direct violation of prevailing laws. Employers must also be sure to adhere to any contractual stipulations when letting go of an employee, as this can also constitute a breach of contract. Should an employee be terminated unlawfully, legal action against the employer may follow.
At-will Employment in Georgia
Many states, including Georgia, offer workers what is known as at-will employment. This means that employers are entitled to end the working relationship with an employee for any reason and at any time. In addition, at-will employment regulations do not require advance notice when firing an employee. There are some exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine that employers must be aware of. For instance, contractual agreements between an employer and employee will override a state’s at-will employment statutes.
Wrongful Termination in Georgia
Because there are exceptions to at-will employment laws, employers may be faced with legal reprisal if a firing is deemed illegal. If an employee files a claim of wrongful termination, employers may be faced with a number of serious ramifications. In some cases employers will be required to remit payment for outstanding wages or even reinstate an employee that has previously been fired. Employers may also be obligated to pay the terminated employee’s legal fees, as well as any punitive damages associated with the claim.
Breach of Contract: Even in those states that follow at-will employment regulations, some employers may devise a contract for workers. Accordingly, any stipulations within a contract will override a state’s at-will regulations. For instance, workers in Georgia whose contracts contain stipulations that outline specific time periods of employment or offer reasons for firings must honor those stipulations or face potential legal repercussions. Contracts often list causes for termination of employment, which can include misconduct by an employee, undesirable work performance and other situations unique to that employer. Breach of contract can pertain to oral as well as written contracts, and collective bargaining agreements are also covered under breach of contract regulations.
Discrimination: There exists numerous anti-discrimination laws at both the state and federal level. In fact, many wrongful termination claims involve some aspect of discrimination, which makes employer knowledge of the law imperative to prevent violations from occurring. According to federal laws, employers are not permitted to fire a worker due to country of origin, race or color, sex, disability, age, one’s standing as a veteran, etc. Because Georgia’s discrimination coverage is rather limited when compared to other states due to a lack of anti-discrimination statutes covering private employees, many claims of discrimination in the state fall under federal regulations.
Retaliation: Workers in Georgia are also protected against being fired by their employers due to retaliation for legal activities. Examples of retaliatory firings include those based on a claim made by an employee in response to a discriminatory practice within the workplace, employee involvement in union activities and the filing of a claim related to unpaid overtime wages. There are also whistleblower protections put in place, which aim to protect employees that have exposed employer violations of existing laws. In Georgia, whistleblower laws do not offer coverage to private employees. Claims can be filed against public employers, however, in the event that an employer takes action against a public employee that reports on violations or breaches.
Public Policy: While a public policy exception to at-will employment laws exist at the federal level, Georgia state laws do not honor public policy regulations. According to federal regulations, violations of public policy laws can include firing an employee for notifying the authorities of an illegal work practice, filing a worker’s compensation claim and many other examples.
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