Many people contact an attorney after being fired, laid off, downsized, etc. and believe that there is a claim for wrongful termination. While the employee may have been wrongfully terminated in the literal or emotional sense, this fact alone does not give the person a legal claim to pursue against their former employer.
Georgia is an at-will state, which means that you can be terminated for any reason or no reason at all. Generally, the only illegal reasons that provide some possibility of legal action against your former employer are those that fall under the federal anti-discrimination laws. In some instances of sexual or racial harassment, there may be a state law claim for assault, battery, etc. but these are fairly rare. Federal anti-discrimination laws protect employees against discrimination or retaliation based on race, age, gender, national origin, religion or disability. These claims are often hard to prove without direct evidence (e-mails, witnesses, etc.).
Assuming there are no discrimination issues or state law claims, many terminated or laid off employees that feel victimized or targeted by their former employer have no “wrongful termination” claims that can be pursued by an attorney. There are some other potential claims that can be pursued even if a discrimination claim would not be appropriate or successful:
1) Overtime: If you were a non-exempt (eligible for overtime) employee, you may have a claim for unpaid overtime, off-the-clock hours or some other wage and hour violation. Even if you were paid a salary and told you were exempt from overtime pay, you may still have a claim. Many employers, especially small businesses, believe that paying someone a salary automatically exempts the employer from paying overtime when the employee works more than 40 hours per week. This is not true. In most cases, an employee’s eligibility for overtime is determined by his or her primary job duties.
2) Employee Benefits: If you were enrolled in health benefits, pension benefits, a 401(k) plan, or other benefit plan through your employer, you may have a claim under ERISA, the Federal law that governs certain types of benefit plans. If you had a health condition that was causing your employer’s insurance costs to rise or you were close to vesting in your pension or 401(k) plan, these are facts that can help an attorney determine whether you have a potential claim against your former employer or their insurance company.
If you believe that you have a claim against a current or former employer, contact an attorney as soon as possible. All legal claims have statutes of limitation that apply to limit the time you have to bring a claim against an employer.
Note: In the absence of an engagement agreement or contract of representation, no information contained in this blog constitutes an undertaking of representation or an expression of a binding legal opinion.