Nebraska Wrongful Termination Laws
Have you recently lost your job? If so, you might be wondering whether you have grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit. In Nebraska, as in other states, employees work at will. This means an employee can generally be fired at any time and for any reason, or for no reason at all.
But there are some exceptions to the at-will rule. For example, if your Nebraska employer fires you for discriminatory reasons, in violation of an employment contract, or in retaliation for exercising your rights, you may have a legal claim against your employer.
Every state’s laws on wrongful termination are different. This article covers some of the common legal grounds you might have for suing your Nebraska employer for wrongful termination. But it’s not a comprehensive list of Nebraska employment rights, which can change as courts issue new rulings and legislators pass or modify laws. To find out the full extent of your legal claims, speak to an experienced Nebraska employment lawyer. To learn more about Nebraska employment law, contact the Nebraska Department of Labor and Industry.
Under federal law, it is illegal for an employer to fire an employee based on a protected characteristic. Federal law prohibits employers from firing employees based on race, color, national origin, sex (including pregnancy), religion, age (if the employee is at least 40), disability, citizenship status, or genetic information. However, only employers with a minimum number of employees must comply with these laws. Most types of discrimination are prohibited once an employer has at least 15 employees. However, for age discrimination the minimum is 20 employees, and for citizenship status discrimination the minimum is four employees.
Nebraska law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex (including pregnancy), religion, age (40 and over), disability, or marital status. For most types of discrimination, the law applies to employers with 15 or more employees. However, the state's age discrimination law applies to employers with 20 or more employees.
These laws also make it illegal for an employer to retaliate against you for asserting your rights. For example, if you complain to your company’s HR department that you believe you were passed over for promotion because of your age, your employer may not discipline or fire you for your complaint. Likewise, your employer cannot fire you for participating in an investigation of a discrimination complaint (no matter who made the complaint), testifying in court, or making other efforts to stop discriminatory practices.
Before filing a discrimination or retaliation lawsuit, you must file a complaint with the appropriate government agency. The Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission (NEOC) enforces state laws prohibiting discrimination; the NEOC has offices in Lincoln, Omaha, and Scottsbluff. In many cases, state fair employment practices agencies will record your complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency that enforces federal antidiscrimination laws. However, you should check to make sure. If not, you may also have to file a complaint with the EEOC; you can find contact information for the nearest office at the EEOC’s Field Offices page.
Breach of Contract
If you have an employment contract promising you job security, you may not be an at-will employee. In Nebraska, an employment contract may be written, oral, or implied. In the first two types of contracts, your employer makes oral or written promises not to fire you for a certain period of time without good cause. In an implied contract, your employer acts in a way that creates a reasonable expectation that you would continue to be employed. For example, if your employee handbook states that employees will be fired only after certain procedures are followed, you may have an implied contract. If you have an employment contract, and your employer fires you without good cause, you have a legal claim for breach of contract.
Wage and Hour Issues
In Nebraska, employees are entitled to a minimum wage of $8 an hour. On January 1, 2016, the minimum wage will increase to $9 an hour. Under federal law, employees who work more than 40 hours a week may be eligible for overtime.
Nebraska employees are entitled to a 30-minute unpaid meal break, offsite, for every eight-hour shift worked. And, under federal law, employers who provide breaks of 20 minutes or less must pay their employees for that time. Employers also must pay their employees for any time during which they must work, even if the employer characterizes that time as a “break.”
It is illegal for employers to fire employees for exercising their rights under federal wage and hour laws.
Time Off Work
State and federal laws give employees the right to take time off work for certain civic obligations and personal responsibilities. Employers may not discipline or fire workers for exercising these rights. In Nebraska, these rights include:
- Military leave. Under federal law, employees have the right to take up to five years of leave to serve in the military, with the right to be reinstated when they return to work. (This law also prohibits discrimination against employees based on their military service, protects employees from discharge without good cause for up to one year after they return from military duty, and provides other protections; see Nolo’s article Taking Military Leave for more information.) Nebraska has extended these protections to members of the state National Guard called to active military duty.
- Jury duty. Employers must pay employees their regular wages (less any amount received from the court) for time spent on jury duty, and they may not require employees to use vacation or sick leave while on jury duty. Employees may not be required to work a night shift following jury duty. Employers who fire or penalize employees for jury service may be subject to criminal penalties.
- Voting. Employers must give employees enough paid time off so that they have at least two consecutive hours while the polls are open to vote.
- Family and medical leave. Nebraska employees are protected by the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks off, unpaid, every year for a serious health condition, to care for a family member with a serious health condition, to care for a new child, or to handle certain practical matters arising out of a family member’s military service. Employees can take up to 26 weeks off in a single year to care for a family member who is seriously injured while serving in the military. Employees who take FMLA leave must be reinstated to the same position once their leave is over.
- Other protected leave. Nebraska law provides for military family leave: Employers with 15 or more employees must provide unpaid leave to the spouse or parent of a person called to active military duty lasting 179 days or more. Nebraska also requires employers who provide parental leave to make the same leave available to adoptive parents (stepparent and foster parent adoptions do not qualify). To learn more, see Nolo’s article Family and Medical Leave in Nebraska.
Other State Claims
- Workers' compensation. Employers may not retaliate against employees for exercising their rights under the state's workers' compensation laws.
- Whistleblowing. Employers may not discriminate against employees who refuse to participate in any activity that would be illegal under state or federal law.
What to Do Next
If you think you were fired illegally, talk to a Nebraska employment lawyer. A lawyer can help you sort through the facts and assess the strength of your claims. A lawyer can also inform you of other state or local claims that you may have in addition to those listed above. Whether you want to try to get your job back, negotiate a severance package, or sue your employer in court, a lawyer can walk you through your options and help you decide on how best to proceed.