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Does Washington’s at-will employment law prevent termination lawsuits?

On Behalf of | Mar 12, 2024 | Uncategorized

Those working in Washington sometimes experience circumstances that make them suspect their employers of violating their rights. Lawsuits can follow workplace discrimination or harassment claims if an employer does not respond appropriately. Sometimes, workers take legal action against businesses because they lose their jobs. An employee might believe that the decision to fire or terminate them was illegal. They might want to pursue a wrongful termination lawsuit against the business after the loss of their job.

A successful wrongful termination lawsuit could lead to financial compensation or a court order for the organization to rehire the wrongfully-terminated employee. Workers may feel uncertain about their rights in Washington given the state’s at-will employment rules.

Wrongful terminations are possible in at-will states

Contrary to what people often assume, employers in at-will states can still break the law when they fire workers in certain circumstances. Technically, existing statutes in Washington allow either party involved in an employment agreement to terminate the arrangement at any time. A worker can quit with literally no notice and should not face any type of legal or financial penalties for leaving their job. An employer could decide to terminate a worker at any point with little or no notice without breaking the law.

Organizations can theoretically terminate a worker for no reason whatsoever or any reason that falls within the bounds of federal and Washington state employment laws. Still, there are scenarios in which a worker could claim that the decision to terminate them was wrongful. Retaliatory firings and layoffs are illegal regardless of at-will employment laws. Companies should not use the decision to fire a worker as a punishment for legal workplace behaviors.

Attempting to organize with other employees, reporting safety concerns, speaking up about harassment or acting as a whistleblower are all protected activities that should not result in the employer punishing the worker. If a termination came on the heels of a worker engaging in legally-protected conduct, they could have reason to claim that they are termination was wrongful.

If a worker suspects that discrimination led to their termination, that could also impact their legal rights. Generally speaking, employers cannot consider certain personal characteristics when deciding who they want to hire, promote or fire. If race, religion, medical condition, sex or other protected characteristics played a role in someone’s termination, they might have grounds to pursue a wrongful termination lawsuit based on discrimination claims. Both targeted terminations that affect one worker and mass layoffs involving numerous people who share the same protective characteristic might constitute wrongful termination.

Holding employers accountable for wrongfully firing a worker can help change company policy and minimize the negative impact that business decisions have on individual employees.