Wrongful termination occurs when an employer fires an employee who is protected by law from being terminated. This protection can come in the form of a legal agreement, a contract between an employer and employees, and from federal and state laws that class the individual as a member of a protected class. Failing to abide by the terms of an employment contract and firing an employee who refused sexual advances are just two examples of what may constitute wrongful termination.
It is important for all employers to learn these laws, as many companies may unknowingly engage in illegal behaviors that may set them up for costly lawsuits. At-will employment is one of the most central concepts at the heart of wrongful termination.
At-will Employment in Montana
At-will employment is the idea that employers and employees can both end the employment relationship at any time and for any reason without fear of legal action. The only exception is when the reason is illegal. Unlike every other state in the U.S., Montana only allows at-will termination while employees are in their introductory probationary periods. Companies can set their own time for probation, or can allow the statutory six-month period to take effect through their inaction. Following this probationary period, employers must be able to document good cause for their decisions to fire workers.
Wrongful Termination in Montana
Even while on probation, in which at-will employment is legally allowed, employees still have certain protections. These exceptions to both the federal and state employment laws are in place to ensure employers do not take advantage of their workers. If businesses choose to break these laws, they may face legal ramifications. In addition to being held responsible for a wrongfully-terminated employee’s past and future wages and benefits, an employer may also be held responsible for attorney fees and a punitive fine.
Breach of Contract: In any state, failing to abide by the terms of an employment contract can lead to a lawsuit, and Montana is no exception. Simply put, employers who agree to the provisions of employment contracts are required to honor those points just as the employee must do so. These contracts can include whether an employee is considered at-will, or they may list the specific things an employee must do in order to be terminated. Morality and performance clauses are two common provisions often found in these agreements. This applies to oral, written and union collective bargaining agreements.
Discrimination: The majority of wrongful termination cases have a discrimination component at their heart. Both federal and state law protect certain classes of people from being discriminated against by employers. As a result, people are protected against negative employment actions based on age, disability, genetic information, pregnancy, race, religion, sex and national origin. In addition to these classes, Montana law also prohibits discrimination based on marital status. Any employer with one or more employees is covered under the law.
Retaliation: When an employer makes negative employment decisions because a worker asserted his or her rights, it is known as retaliation. Thus, workers who file complaints against a company are considered a protected class under both state and federal law. For example, if an employee complains about being passed over for a promotion due to his age and is fired, it may be considered retaliation. The same may be said if a worker complains of being sexually harassed and is demoted.
Public Policy: According to Montana law, public policy includes any policy having to do with the public safety, health or welfare granted by a statute, administrative rule or constitutional provision. Federal law recognizes a broader definition and holds that employers cannot fire their employees for reasons that society as a whole would deem illegitimate. Under either federal or state law, employees would be protected, for example, from termination for refusing to violate a law, or for reporting the illegal activities of their employers.
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