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.
What If You Were Illegally Fired During the Coronavirus Pandemic?
A shocking number of Americans have lost their jobs as a result of the economic downturn stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. But what if you were fired during the pandemic? Depending on the reason you were dismissed, you might have a valid claim for wrongful termination. For instance, it would generally be illegal for your employer to fire you:
- in retaliation after you complained about or reported unsafe working conditions, such as inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE), social distancing, or cleaning
- for refusing to work because you had a reasonable belief that you faced an immediate risk or death of serous physical harm due to unsafe working conditions
- for refusing to violate a legal shelter-in-place order
- for taking family or medical leave under state or federal law, including the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) (discussed below)
- because you have a preexisting condition (including your age) that makes you more vulnerable to the coronavirus, or
- because you filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits for COVID-19.
(Learn more about wrongful termination in the context of COVID-19.)
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). You can file a complaint with the EEOC online.
You might 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.
Under federal law, employers are prohibited from firing or taking other negative actions against employees who assert their rights under the wage laws. In general, Alabama follows the federal rules regarding minimum wage and overtime. Employees must be paid at least $7.25 an hour, and hourly workers must be paid time and a half for any hours worked in excess of 40 per week.
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:
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.
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.