Connecticut 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 Connecticut, 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. If your Connecticut employer fires you for discriminatory reasons, in violation of an employment contract, or in retaliation for exercising your rights, for example, you may have a legal claim against your employer for wrongful termination.
Every state’s laws on wrongful termination are different. This article covers some of the common legal grounds you might have for suing your employer in Connecticut for wrongful termination. But it’s not a comprehensive list of Connecticut employment rights, which can change as courts issue new rulings and legislators pass or modify laws. To find out the full extent of your claims, speak to an experienced Connecticut employment lawyer. To learn more about Connecticut employment law, contact the Connecticut Department of Labor.
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, pregnancy, religion, age (if the employee is at least 40), disability, citizenship status, or genetic information. However, only employers of a certain size must comply with these laws. For most types of discrimination, the law applies to employers with 15 or more employees. However, the prohibition on age discrimination applies to employers with 20 or more employees, while the prohibition on citizenship discrimination applies to employers with four or more employees.
Connecticut law prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age (any age), ancestry, disability (including present or past physical, mental, intellectual, or learning disability), marital status, gender identity or expression, genetic information, sexual orientation, or HIV/AIDS. In Connecticut, employers must comply with these laws if they have at least three 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. In Connecticut, state discrimination laws are enforced by the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. Often times, 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 Connecticut, 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 creates a reasonable expectation that you would continue to be employed. For example, if your employee handbook states that employees will be fired only for good cause, that may create an implied contract. If your employer fires you without good cause, you have a legal claim for breach of contract.
Wage and Hour Issues
In Connecticut, employees have the right to minimum wage of $9.15 per hour. Employees also have the right to overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours in a workweek. And, employees who work in restaurants (including those in hotels) must receive overtime for all hours worked on a seventh consecutive day. Employees in Connecticut who work 7.5 or more consecutive hours are entitled to a 30-minute unpaid meal break. The meal break must be scheduled after the first two hours of work and before the last two hours of work. It is illegal for employers in Connecticut to fire employees for asserting their wage and hour rights before the state's wage board.
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 Connecticut, 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.) Connecticut law extends these rights to members of the National Guard who are called to service by the governor. Connecticut law also gives employees who are members of the state's armed forces the right to take time off to perform ordered military duty, including meetings or drills, that take place during regular work hours, without loss or reduction of vacation or holiday benefits.
- Jury duty. Full-time employees are entitled to earn their regular wages for their first five days of jury service. Employers who fire or penalize an employee for jury service are subject to criminal penalties and special damages in a wrongful termination lawsuit.
- Family and medical leave. Connecticut 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 the following purposes: to receive treatment for and recuperate from 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 they previously held once their leave is over. Connecticut also has its own family and medical leave law that applies to employers with 75 or more employees. Under Connecticut's law, eligible employees may take up to 16 weeks off in a two-year period for their own serious health conditions, to care for a family member with a serious health condition, or to bond with a child. Connecticut's law covers the same family members covered by the FMLA, as well as parents-in-law, partners in a civil union, and children of a partner in a civil union. Connecticut's laws also provide time off for other purposes, including pregnancy disability leave and leave to care for a family member who is seriously injured while on active military duty. For more information, see Nolo’s article Family and Medical Leave in Connecticut.
- Sick leave. Connecticut has a paid sick leave law, which provides service employees with the right to up to five days of paid time off per year. The law applies to employers with 50 or more employees.
Other State Claims
- Workers' compensation. Employers may not retaliate against employees for filing workers' compensation claims or otherwise exercising their rights under workers' comp laws.
- Work safety. Employers may not discipline or fire employees for reporting workplace safety violations or cooperating in an investigation into workplace safety violations.
- First amendment. Employees have the right to engage in free speech without fear of reprisal from their employers, unless the speech substantially interferes
- Whistleblowing. Employers cannot fire, discipline, or take other negative action against employees who report suspected illegal activity by their employers, or for participating in an investigation or legal proceeding connected to such illegal activity.
What to Do Next
If you believe you were wrongfully terminated, you should speak to a Connecticut employment lawyer right away. A lawyer can evaluate your claims and walk you through your options, whether it be negotiating a settlement, filing an administrative claim, or moving forward with a lawsuit. A lawyer can also inform you of other state or local claims that you may have in addition to those listed above.