One of the most devastating things that can happen in a person’s life is being terminated from a job. When the termination is unfair or unwarranted it can have particularly detrimental effects. But how do you know when an unfair termination is actually illegal? Most people know the terms “at will” and usually every employer tells its employees that they can be terminated at any time with or without a reason. That is true in some cases, but that does not give your employer a license to terminate you for illegal reasons. Simply being under appreciated or not given a good reason for your termination, while certainly unfair, is not necessarily illegal. But if you were being treated differently than other people based on your race, sex, sexual orientation, age, national origin, or disability you may have a case for discrimination in employment. If you reported unsafe or illegal conduct in the workplace, you may have a case for unlawful retaliation.
If you have been terminated, how do you know when you have a lawsuit against your employer?
What is Employment Discrimination?
Employment discrimination happens when you are treated differently because of who you are and your status in a protected class. The categories of protected classes are as follows:
- Marital status
- Sexual orientation
- Your need for Family leave
- Your need for Medical leave
If your boss is mean to you and everyone else this is not employment discrimination. But if the boss is treating you badly because you are a different age, race or sex than he or she is and they treat your co-workers who are of the same race or sex better than you, you may have a case for employment discrimination. If you feel you have been discriminated against because of your race, sex, or any of the reasons listed above, then you may want to take the next step in the process and contact an attorney.
What Constitutes a Hostile Work Environment?
What about if you feel you are working in a hostile work environment? What does that really mean?
People often tell lawyers that they are experiencing a hostile work environment. While there are workplaces that are hostile by the normal definition of the word in order to bring a lawsuit for the environment you must understand the legal definition of a hostile work environment. A hostile work environment is conduct in the workplace that is so severe or occurs so often that it interferes with your ability to do your job. In order to be a legally actionable hostile work environment, the treatment you are facing at work must be based on your status as a member of a protected class, such as your age, race, sexual orientation or sex.
Common civility would assume that your workplace environment will be professionally organized in a manner which helps each employee perform and thrive at their particular job. But unfortunately, you can’t normally bring a lawsuit because you are working in an environment that is uncivil or even hostile unless that incivility or hostility is based on your protected characteristics or protected activities (such as reporting illegal conduct). Just because the boss is micro-managing you or treating you rudely for no apparent or for personal reasons other than protected characteristics, you can not sue them for a hostile work environment. In order to constitute a hostile work environment, the hostile treatment must be towards you and others in your protected class, while those outside your protected class are treated better.
When you are working in a hostile work environment your boss, co-workers, or a combination of both behave in a severely detrimental manner based on your race, sex, or age, etc. which makes performing your job impossible. Examples of hostile workplace environmental behavior can include a boss who makes unwanted sexual advances toward you or a co-worker who communicates derogatory language about your race, national origin or religion.
If this description fits your situation, you should contact an attorney for a free consultation. It is also advisable to see your doctor to help you cope with the stress of such treatment.
Chronicling Possible Employment Discrimination
If you continue to experience abrasive behavior like the examples provided above, there are steps you can take to place yourself in the best position to take action. For each incident of discriminatory behavior, fully document to the best of your abilities, the time of the incident, the offending party or parties, and document as much of the conversation or comment as possible. If a note is sent or an email written, attempt to preserve that information for future reference.
Before you take legal action, visit your human resources handbook and completely familiarize yourself with your company’s discrimination and harassment policies.
Once you have your company’s discrimination-harassment policy information, inform your supervisor and Human Resources department about the specific incidents of discriminatory behavior. Inform them that you expect the behavior to stop and expect support in your quest for a safe, discrimination- free environment.
If the harassing and or discriminatory behavior continues, be prepared to consult with an employment attorney. Organize the information you have gathered and be able to provide it to the law firm by email or in writing. The more complete documentation you can provide the better picture your consulting attorney will have in making the best recommendations for your situation. But make sure you condense the information into a short and uncomplicated story. Be clear and direct. Remember attorneys are busy people so make your case very simple for them. Be ready to tell your side of the story, ask questions when you are unclear about an outcome or explanation, and seek advice that provides you options to consider for the logical next step in the process.