“Wrongful discharge” is often used as legal shorthand to describe something known as “wrongful termination in violation of public policy” – a sort of catch-all, judge-made rule that prohibits employers in many states from firing an employee who opposes or refuses to participate in certain unlawful or unethical activities. This page provides an in-depth look into the common law concerning this form of wrongful discharge in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Wrongful discharge is also used colloquially, however, in a much broader sense: a termination that was “wrong,” for any number of reasons. If you believe that you have been discharged for reasons that are discriminatory in nature – for example, because of your race, sex, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation or national origin – please visit our discrimination page to learn more about the protections you may have under Title VII and other federal and state laws.
If you have been fired because you opposed or refused to engage in unlawful or fraudulent activity – whether that be unlawful accounting or billing practices, or violations of environmental, medical or transportation safety laws – please visit our whistleblower law page to see if you may be entitled to protection under a the whistleblower protection provision of a specific statute. If you have questions about whether your termination was unlawful, contact our experienced whistleblower attorneys to discuss your case, without charge or further obligation.
Wrongful Termination in Violation of Public Policy
All U.S. states follow the doctrine of at-will employment, which means that an employer may terminate an employee at any time for any reason or no reason at all, and an employee may likewise quit at any time for any reason. (Montana alone requires good cause to terminate an employee after the first six months or after a probationary period, during which time employment is at-will. See Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act, Mt. Code §§ 39-2-901 – 39-2-915.) This means that absent an employment contract or other fixed term of employment, an employer may lawfully terminate an employee for reasons that may seem unfair. Lawful reasons to terminate an employee include disliking the employee; any mistake the employer believes the employee has made, whether or not the employee has actually made the mistake; or because the employer is in a bad mood.