The term “wrongful termination” refers to a firing of an employee for reasons that are considered illegal. This might mean an employer fired an employee who was under an existing contract or because of a protected right, such as the employee’s color, sex or religious preference. At the crux of wrongful termination law is the concept of at-will employment, so it is critical that today’s business owners acquaint themselves with the concept, and wrongful termination laws in general, to avoid breaking them. It’s important to note that wrongful termination laws may exist at both the state and federal levels.
At-Will Employment in Michigan
Michigan is considered an at-will employment state, meaning, with a few exceptions, state employers can fire employees for essentially any reason and at any time. Conversely, Michigan’s employees are also able to quit a position at any time, and for just about any reason, though there are a few exceptions.
Wrongful Termination in Michigan
Though the state of Michigan observes the concept of at-will employment, there are a number of exceptions to it. For example, employers are not allowed to fire employees for reasons that hinder the employee’s protected rights, such as a difference in opinion over religious beliefs. Michigan’s business owners also may not fire employees with whom they are currently under contract, or for reasons that contradict public policy. Any employer that terminates an employee under contract, for discriminatory reasons or for reasons that contradict public policy may face wrongful termination charges in a court of law.
Breach of Contract: In the state of Michigan, both oral and written contracts are considered binding, and they both negate the terms of the at-will employment contract. Thus, Michigan’s employers cannot fire an employee currently bound by a contract agreement, and Michigan’s employees also cannot quit a position when a contract exists. Employers are also bound by oral promises they make. For example, if an employer states that an employee’s sales performance must improve within six months to stay on and the employee is terminated after only three months, the employer could face charges of wrongful termination. Breach of contract rules also apply to collective bargaining contracts within unions.
Discrimination: Most of today’s wrongful termination cases involve allegations of discrimination, making it particularly important that Michigan’s employers come to fully understand the state’s anti-discrimination laws. Essentially, Michigan’s employers are not legally allowed to terminate employees because of color, race, religious affiliation, age, height, disability, weight or marital status, among related areas. If an employee can show that he or she was terminated based on one of the aforementioned reasons, and that he or she was impacted negatively because of it, the employer may face discrimination-based wrongful termination charges.
Retaliation: Michigan employers are not allowed to “retaliate” against employees they believe may be out to harm the employer or the business, such as those who file complaints about unsafe business practices, unsanitary working conditions or an employer’s failure to offer overtime pay. Any employer that engages in this type of behavior may face wrongful termination charges in a Michigan court of law.
Public Policy: Another exception to the concept of at-will employment in the state of Michigan involves what is known as “public policy.” Essentially, Michigan’s employers may not terminate employees for reasons Michigan society as a whole would consider unjust or unlawful. For example, employers cannot fire employees who refuse to participate in illegal or criminal activities on behalf of the employer, because doing so would be in contradiction with the state’s public policies. Similarly, an employee cannot be fired for refusing to lie or perjure him or herself for the sake of the company, because perjury is considered a criminal activity in the state and is therefore a matter of public policy.
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