Alabama Wrongful Termination Laws
Have you recently lost your job in Alabama? If so, you might be wondering whether you have grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit against your former employer. In Alabama, as in other states, employees work at will. This means an employee can be fired at any time and for any reason, or for no reason at all, as long as the reason for the firing is not illegal.
But there are some exceptions to the at-will rule. For example, if your Alabama employer fires you for discriminatory reasons, in violation of an employment contract, or in retaliation for exercising your legal rights, you may have a claim against your employer for wrongful termination.
This article covers some of the common legal grounds for suing your employer in Alabama for wrongful termination. Laws change, however, and this is not a comprehensive list of Alabama employment rights. To find out whether you have a legal claim for wrongful termination, speak to an experienced Alabama employment lawyer.
Under federal law, it is illegal for employers (of a certain size) to fire an employee based on race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, religion, age (if the employee is at least 40), disability, citizenship status, or genetic information. Alabama law also prohibits discrimination based on age, if the employee is at least 40.
These laws also make it illegal for an employer to retaliate against employees for challenging discriminatory practices. For example, if you complain to your company’s HR department that you believe you were passed over for promotion because of your gender, your employer cannot discipline or fire you because of 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. In Alabama, the laws prohibiting discrimination are enforced by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which has offices in Birmingham and Mobile. You can find the location, contact information, and hours of these Alabama EEOC offices at the EEOC’s Field Offices page.
Breach of Contract
You may not be an at-will employee if you have an employment contract promising you job security. In Alabama, 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 doesn't make express promises, but acts in a way that seems to promise job security. For example, if your employer makes comments about you having a "long future at the company as long as you perform well," that may create 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 general, Alabama follows the federal rules regarding minimum wage and overtime. Employees must be paid at least $7.25 an hour and must be paid time and a half for any hours worked in excess of 40 per week. Under federal law, employers are prohibited from firing or taking other negative action against employees who assert their rights under the wage 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 Alabama, 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.) Alabama state law extends the protections of this federal law to employees who are called to active state duty for at least 30 days. (See Nolo’s Taking Military Leave in Alabama for more information.)
- Jury duty. Full-time employees are entitled to their usual pay while they serve on a jury.
- Voting. Employees may take necessary time off work to vote, up to one hour, unless they have two hours off after the polls open or one hour off before the polls close. Time off is unpaid.
- Family and medical leave. Although Alabama does not have its own family and medical leave law, Alabama employees are protected by the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This law requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks off, unpaid, every year for their own serious health conditions, 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 on FMLA leave must be reinstated to the same position they previously held once their leave is over. For more information, see the articles at Nolo's FMLA page.
Many states have laws in place to protect employees who are injured on the job and file workers' compensation claims. In Alabama, employers are prohibited from firing or taking other negative action against employees who file claims for workers' compensation benefits or who file complaints about safety issues under the state's workers' comp laws.
What to Do Next
If you think you were fired illegally, you should talk to an Alabama employment lawyer. A lawyer can help you sort through the facts and assess the strength of any claims you may have against your former employer. A lawyer can also explain your options and help you protect your rights, whether you decide to try to get your job back, negotiate a severance package, or take your former employer to court. To learn more about Alabama employment law, contact the Alabama Department of Labor.