If you've recently lost your job, you might be wondering whether you have grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit. In Nevada, 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. For example, if your Nevada employer fires you for discriminatory reasons, in violation of an employment contract, or in retaliation for exercising your rights, you may have a legal claim against your employer.
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.)
Every state's laws on wrongful termination are different. This article covers some of the common legal grounds you might have for suing your Nevada employer for wrongful termination. But it's not a comprehensive list of Nevada 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 Nevada employment lawyer.
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 (including 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 status discrimination the minimum is four employees.
Nevada law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, religion, age (40 and older), disability, genetic information, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression. Nevada employers must comply with these laws if they have at least 15 employees.
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 ethnicity, 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. The Nevada Equal Rights Commission (NERC) investigates and enforces state laws prohibiting discrimination in employment; the NERC has offices in Las Vegas and Reno. 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.
If you have an employment contract promising you job security, you may not be an at-will employee. In Nevada, 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, if your employee handbook states that employees will be fired only after certain procedures are followed, you may have 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.
As of July 1, 2020, Nevada employees are entitled to a minimum wage of $8 per hour if their employers provide qualifying health benefits and $9 per hour if not. (Each of those amounts will increase by 75 cents a year until they reach $11/$12 an hour in July 2024.)
Under federal and state law, nonexempt employees who work more than 40 hours a week are eligible for overtime. (Generally, professionals, executives, and administrative employees are exempt from overtime rules.) Nevada law also requires employers to pay employees overtime when they work more than eight hours in a day, but only if they make less than 1.5 times the state minimum wage.
Employees in Nevada are entitled to an unpaid meal break of 30 minutes for every eight continuous hours of work. Employees are also entitled to a paid ten-minute rest break, in the middle of the work period if practicable, for each four hours (or major fraction of four hours) worked. In addition, under federal law, employers must pay employees for breaks of 20 minutes or less and for any time during which employees must perform any work, even if the employer characterizes that time as a "break."
It is illegal for Nevada employers to threaten or intimidate employees in order to prevent them from testifying in a wage proceeding, or to fire or retaliate against employees who provide such testimony.
Employers may not discipline or fire workers for exercising their rights under state and federal law to take time off work for certain civic obligations and personal responsibilities. In Nevada, these rights include:
If you think you were fired illegally, talk to a Nevada 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 how best to proceed.