Louisiana 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 Louisiana, 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 Louisiana 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 Louisiana for wrongful termination. But it’s not a comprehensive list of Louisiana 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 Louisiana employment lawyer. To learn more about Louisiana employment law, contact the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

Discriminatory Firing

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; the minimum is 20 employees for age discrimination and four employees for discrimination based on citizenship status.

Louisiana law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age (at least 40 years old), disability, genetic information, citizenship status, or sickle cell trait. Louisiana employers with at least 20 employees must comply with these laws. Employers with at least 25 employees may not discriminate on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions.

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 Louisiana, the Louisiana Commission on Human Rights enforces the state’s laws prohibiting discrimination; the Commission has offices in Baton Rouge. 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

If you have an employment contract promising you job security, you may not be an at-will employee. In Louisiana 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 acts in a way that creates a reasonable expectation that you would continue to be employed. For example, statements in your employee handbook that specify the terms and duration of your employment may qualify as 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

Louisiana employees have the right to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Under federal law, 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, Louisiana is not one of them. Under federal law, though, employers who choose to offer breaks of 20 minutes or less must pay employees for that time. It is a violation of federal law for employers in Louisiana to fire employees for enforcing their rights under wage and hour 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 Louisiana, 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.) Louisiana law also prohibits discrimination against members of the National Guard or reserves. In addition, Louisiana requires employers to reinstate members of the Louisiana National Guard or the National Guard of any other state, the state militia, or any other branch of the state military forces following leave for military duty, and not to fire them without good cause for a year thereafter.
  • Jury duty. Employees are entitled to take leave for jury duty; the first full day must be paid. Employees may not be docked sick, vacation, or personal leave for jury duty. Employers may not adopt any rule or policy that would discharge employees for jury service. Employers who fire or penalize an employee for jury service are subject to damages and fines.
  • Family and medical leave. Louisiana 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 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. Louisiana law also gives employees the right to take time off while temporarily unable to work due to pregnancy, childbirth and related conditions. Employees with normal pregnancies may receive up to six weeks, while employees with complicated pregnancies can receive up to four months of leave. To learn more, see Nolo’s article Louisiana Family and Medical Leave Laws.
  • Other protected leave. Employers with 20 or more employees must provide up to 40 hours of paid leave, per year, to eligible employees who need time off to donate bone marrow. Parents in Louisiana also have the right to take up to 16 hours off each year for a child's school conferences and activities.

Other State Claims

  • Workers' compensation. Employers may not fire employees or take other negative action because they have filed workers' compensation claims.
  • Work safety. Employers are prohibited from terminating employees who report violations of workplace safety laws.
  • Whistleblower. Employers cannot discharge employees for reporting workplace activities that are in violation of the law, or for assisting a government agency in an investigation or other legal proceedings.

What to Do Next

If you think you were fired illegally, talk to a Louisiana 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.

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