Maine 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 Maine, 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 Maine 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 Maine for wrongful termination. But it’s not a comprehensive list of Maine 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 Maine employment lawyer. To learn more about Maine employment law, contact the Maine 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 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 discrimination the minimum is four employees.
Maine law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, religion, age, disability, genetic information, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Employers of any size, including those with only one employee, must comply with these state laws.
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 Maine, the Maine Human Rights Commission enforces the state’s laws prohibiting discrimination; the Commission has offices in Augusta. 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
Maine law strongly favors at-will employment. To alter the at-will employment relationship, there must be a contract that clearly states the parties' intentions to restrict the right to terminate or quit at any time. For example, if you signed a written employment agreement stating that you could be fired only for good cause, you do not work at will. If your employer fired you without good cause, you have a legal claim for breach of contract.
Wage and Hour Issues
In Maine, employees are entitled to a minimum wage of $7.50 per hour. Employees are also entitled to overtime pay (time and a half) when they work more than 40 hours in a workweek. Employees are entitled to an unpaid meal break of at least 30 minutes, after six hours of work (except in cases of emergency). It is illegal for an employer to fire an employee for making a complaint to a government agency about wage and hour violations.
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 Maine, 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.) Maine law requires employers to provide military leave to National Guard or reserve members in response to state or federal military orders, with reinstatement when leave is complete. Employers must also continue the employee’s health, dental, and life insurance at no extra cost to the employee for the first 30 days of military leave. Maine law prohibits discrimination against members of the National Guard or reserves. To learn more, see Nolo’s article Taking Military Leave in Maine.
- Jury duty. Employees are entitled to take unpaid leave for jury duty, and employers may not fire employees, discontinue their benefits, or threaten these actions. Employers who fire or penalize an employee for jury service are subject to criminal charges and damages.
- Family and medical leave. Maine 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 of unpaid leave each year for the following purposes: to recover 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 once their leave is over. Maine also has its own family and medical leave law, which applies to employers with 15 or more employees. Eligible employees may take up to ten weeks of unpaid leave for similar purposes allowed under the FMLA. However, Maine's law does not provide bonding leave for foster placements or adoptions of children older than 16. Maine's law also includes domestic partners in the definition of "family member."
- Other protected leave. Maine law also allows provides time off for military family leave, for organ donors, and to obtain services and assistance relating to domestic violence. To learn more, see Nolo’s article Family and Medical Leave in Maine.
Other State Claims
- Worker's compensation. Employers may not retaliate against employees for filing workers' compensation claims or for testifying in workers' compensation proceedings.
- Workplace safety. Employers are prohibited from firing employees who refuse to engage in activity that could lead to serious injury or death.
- Whistleblowing. Employers cannot fire employees for reporting illegal acts within the company.
What to Do Next
If you think you were fired illegally, talk to a Maine 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 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.