Have you recently lost your job? If so, you might be wondering whether you have grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit. In Hawaii, 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 Hawaii 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 Hawaii for wrongful termination. But it’s not a comprehensive list of Hawaii 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 Hawaii employment lawyer. To learn more about Hawaii employment law, contact the Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.
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 certain employers must comply with these laws. For most types of discrimination, the law apply to employers with 15 or more employees. However, the prohibition against age discrimination applies to employers with 20 or more employees, and the ban against citizenship status discrimination applies to employers with only four or more employees.
Hawaii law prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, religion, age (any age), ancestry, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, arrest and court record (unless there is a conviction that directly relates to the job), gender identity and gender expression, status as a victim of domestic or sexual violence, or credit history or credit report (unless credit information directly relates to a bona fide occupational qualification). In Hawaii, all employers must comply with these laws, even if they have only one employee.
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 Hawaii, the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission enforces state discrimination laws. In many cases, state fair employment practices agencies will also 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.
If you have an employment contract promising you job security, you may not be an at-will employee. In Hawaii, 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 says that employees won't be fired unless certain disciplinary steps are followed, that may create an implied contract that gives you certain rights before being terminated. If you have an employment contract, and your employer fires you without good cause, you have a legal claim for breach of contract.
Employees in Hawaii are entitled to a minimum wage of $7.75 an hour. Employees are also entitled to overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours in a workweek. Although some states require employers to provide meal or rest breaks, Hawaii is not one of them. However, if employers choose to offer paid breaks of 20 minutes or less, federal law requires that the breaks be paid. It is illegal for employers in Hawaii to fire an employee for filing a wage complaint, testifying in a wage hearing, or otherwise exercising wage rights under state and federal law.
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 Hawaii, these rights include:
If you think you were fired illegally, talk to a Hawaii 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.