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.
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.
In Maine, employees are entitled to a minimum wage of $10 per hour in 2018, $11 per hour in 2019, and $12 per hour in 2020. 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.
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:
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.