Have you recently lost your job? If so, you might be wondering whether you have grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit. In Vermont, 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 Vermont 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 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 Vermont employer for wrongful termination. But it’s not a comprehensive list of Vermont 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 Vermont employment lawyer. To learn more about Vermont employment law, contact the office of the Vermont 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, the minimum is 20 employees for age discrimination and four employees for citizenship status discrimination.
Vermont law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, ancestry, national origin, sex, pregnancy, religion, disability, age (18 and older), HIV or AIDS status, genetic information, sexual orientation, place of birth, gender identity, or credit report or credit history. All Vermont employers must comply with these laws, even those with 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. The Vermont Human Rights Commission enforces the state’s laws prohibiting discrimination; the Commission has offices in Montpelier. 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.
If you have a written employment contract promising you job security, you are not an at-will employee. Vermont also recognizes implied employment contracts based on oral promises, statements in an employee handbook, or a course of conduct that signals the employer's intention to restrict its ability to terminate at will. For example, if your employee handbook states that employees will be fired only for certain offenses, you may have an implied contract that you won't be fired unless you commit one of those offenses. If you have an employment contract, and your employer fires you without good cause, you have a legal claim for breach of contract.
In Vermont, employees are entitled to a minimum wage of $9.15 per hour. The minimum wage will increase to $9.60 in 2016, $10 in 2017, and $10.50 in 2018. While Vermont has no overtime law, federal law requires employers to pay employees overtime when they work more than 40 hours in a workweek.
Vermont employers must give employees reasonable opportunities to eat and use the restroom during the workday. Under federal law, any breaks of 20 minutes or less must generally be paid. Employers also must pay their employees for any time during which they must work, even if the employer characterizes that time as a “break.”
In Vermont, employers may not fire employees for sharing information about their wages or asking fellow employees about their wages. Employers also may not fire employees for exercising their rights under federal wage and hour laws.
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 Vermont, these rights include:
If you think you were fired illegally, talk to a Vermont employment lawyer. Whether you want to get your job back, negotiate a settlement, or file a lawsuit, a lawyer can help you assert your legal rights. A lawyer can also inform you of any other claims that you might have under state or local law.