In the state of New Jersey, employees are considered “at will” unless they have an executed employment contract. What this means is that both employers and workers have the right to end the employer/employee relationship at any time, without legal consequences. Just as you are able to walk off the job because you don’t like the way that your boss speaks to you, the uniform you have to wear or the assignment that you have been given, your boss is able to terminate you for any reason that they like. This may feel unfair – and it often is – but it is perfectly legal and within your employer’s right. The exception to this rule is when an employer violates the terms of an employment contract, the state’s discrimination laws, or when an employee is fired in violation of state and/or federal whistleblower laws. Let’s look at each of these types ofwrongful termination in New Jersey.
1. Violation of an Employment Contract – Employment contracts are generally executed when an employee is first hired. They outline how much the employer will pay the employee, the benefits they will be provided, what the employee’s duties and obligations are to the employer and what the employer’s duties are to the employee. Though employment contracts often identify an employee as being “at will”, if the contract limits the circumstances under which employment can be terminated and you are fired in violation of those terms, you may be able to file a lawsuit against them for breach of contract and wrongful termination.
2. Violation of the State’s Discrimination Laws – The state of New Jersey has a robust anti-discrimination law called the NJLAD – New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. It specifically prohibits firing an employee because of their race, gender, national origin, religion, or membership in one of several other discriminated classes defined under the law. Wrongful termination under the NJLAD does not require that you actually be terminated. If your workplace has become so toxic as a result of harassment or hostility that it becomes impossible for you to continue working, you may be eligible to file a wrongful termination lawsuit.
3. Violation of Public Policy Laws – In the state of New Jersey and under federal law there are certain activities that are protected against retaliation. These include coming forward as a whistleblower to report illegal activity on the part of your employer, filing for workers compensation, taking advantage of mandated benefits under the Family and Medical Leave Act, and reporting wage and hour violations. If you are terminated or retaliated against for participating in any of these legally protected activities, you may be eligible to file a wrongful termination lawsuit.
The law recognizes the imbalance of power between an employer and its employees, and offers legal and financial remedies in response to wrongful termination. An employee who is able to prove that they have been the victim of unfair employment practices is able to recover damages in the form of compensation for lost wages as well as punitive damages meant to punish the employer for their illegal actions. You may also be awarded compensation for emotional stress that you have suffered, reinstatement of benefits and position if you wish to return to your former position, and reimbursement for any attorney’s fees and court costs that you have incurred. Though it is impossible to predict exactly what damages you can expect from your particular situation, previous wrongful termination lawsuits have resulted in significant verdicts for wronged employees, with judgments ranging from $50,000 in damages to over $10 million for employees who were bypassed for promotions, subjected to sexual discrimination or harassment, and fired in retaliation for whistleblowing activities.
Though it is easy to feel intimidated by a former employer, with an experienced and knowledgeable employment attorney by your side you can feel confident in your rights. For information about whether you are eligible to file a wrongful termination lawsuit against your former workplace, contact the experienced attorneys at Schorr & Associates today.