Employers seeking to terminate a worker must comply with state and federal wrongful termination laws stipulating what is and is not permitted when it comes to employee firings. For instance, terminations based on an employee’s race or ethnic background are prohibited, as are firings that violate contractual agreements between employers and employees. In many instances, the concept of at-will employment can be a factor in wrongful termination cases, which requires an understanding of what at-will employment actually entails. Violations of prevailing laws can render employers vulnerable to legal action enacted by wrongfully terminated employees.
At-Will Employment in Oklahoma
Because Oklahoma is designated as an at-will employment state, in most circumstances employers are permitted to terminate workers at any time, for any reason and without prior notice required. In spite of its status as an at-will employment state, there are some restrictions to at-will laws that Oklahoma employers are required to follow. Adherence to these laws is essential to ensure employers remain in compliance with all prevailing regulations.
Wrongful Termination in Oklahoma
There are a number of exceptions to at-will employment laws that Oklahoma employers must be aware of. Employers cannot fire a worker for reasons deemed discriminatory, and they cannot breach an existing contract that expresses criteria that would constitute a lawful termination. In the event an employee is wrongfully terminated in Oklahoma, employers may face many serious repercussions. Employers might be required to re-hire the worker, monetary damages may be awarded and reimbursement of back pay or other types of compensation may be necessary.
Breach of Contract: An existing contract between an employer and employee can subvert at-will employment provisions. This is particularly true when said contracts outline specific reasons for employee termination, such as failure to meet certain pre-established work goals, which negates an employer’s ability to terminate a worker freely. If an employer fails to honor the terms of these agreements, legal penalties may be incurred. Contractual breaches can affect written and oral contracts.
Discrimination: Both Oklahoma and federal law prohibit worker firings based on any reason deemed discriminatory. Current state protections cover skin color, sex (including pregnancy), religion, race/ethnicity, age, disability, genetic information and nation of origin. Federal law covers most of these same areas, with additional coverage extended to employees requiring medical leave for themselves or to care for ailing family members. Discrimination is a factor in many wrongful termination cases, which illustrates the importance of an employer retaining full awareness of protected classes.
Retaliation: Retaliation is another exception to at-will employment laws in Oklahoma. Federal regulations stipulate that employers are not permitted to fire workers due to their participation in what are deemed necessary or legally protected activities. An example would be the termination of an employee for seeking overtime pay. Firing employers for their opposition to discriminatory employment practices is another instance where an employer would be in violation of retaliations statutes. Additionally, protections are also put in place for “whistleblowers,” or employees who’ve exposed some unlawful and/or harmful aspect of an enterprise. While in the past whistleblower protections were chiefly afforded to public sector employees, many states (including Oklahoma) have extended protections to workers in the private sector.
Public Policy: The public policy exception to at-will employment is one that is recognized by many states, including Oklahoma. This exception stipulates that employers cannot terminate workers for adhering to existing public policy mandates. Examples include refusing an employer’s request to commit an unlawful act, such as perjury, performance of acts deemed to be in the best interest of the public, such as agreeing to jury duty, or notifying the appropriate authorities of any violations committed by employers. Employers are also restricted from terminating one’s employment after exercising statutory rights. This includes filing a workers’ compensation claim after an injury, which is protected by both federal and state laws.
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