Employment contract

What Constitutes Wrongful Termination in Washington?


Losing your job is a challenging experience. Perhaps this happened to you recently – for that we apologize. However, not all cases of employment terminations are exactly legal, especially in Washington state. These are cases of “wrongful termination”. We’ll explain.

(please note: this is not a fully comprehensive guide on wrongful termination; these can change as new rulings are passed. The following are the more common legal grounds you have for cases of wrongful termination)

What does “at will employment” mean?

If you work in the private sector, you most likely saw the words “at will employment” on your initial contract, in a handbook or even were simply told this by the boss. This means your employer can fire you at any time, for just about any reason. They don’t have to establish a reasonable cause.  

Employment contract

“At will employment” can be limited in Washington by union contracts, employment contracts and even by policies of the employer. The limits generally require “Just Cause” for termination, meaning there is a valid and lawful reason for the termination.  

Spontaneous firing though, if it occurs under the following circumstances, could constitute reason for a law suit. Here they are:

Discrimination

This is a federal law – if you are fired for any of the following reasons, you can legally sue your employer:

  • Race, color or national origin
  • Gender or genetic information
  • Sexual orientation
  • Pregnancy
  • Religion
  • Age (if you are at least 40)
  • Disability
  • Status of citizenship

One note: for an organization to be charged for age discrimination, they must have a minimum of 20 employees; for citizenship status, it’s four.

In Washington, the rules are even tighter. Most discrimination laws take effect for even tiny businesses, and Washington is even more strict on holding the employer accountable.

Most importantly, your company cannot discipline you for asserting your rights. Meaning, if you’d missed an opportunity, like a promotion, and you feel it was based on one of the reasons above, then you cannot be punished for complaining.

Complying with wage and hour regulations

Employers in Washington must abide by the minimum wage, which is currently $11/hour. They must also provide meal and break times, based on the amount of hours worked. Some of the state regulations are as follows:

  • A 30-minute break for those working a minimum of five hours

    • Three or more hours after the regular workday constitutes an additional 30-minute meal break
  • A 10-minute break for every four hours worked (an employee cannot be forced to work more than three hours without a short break)

    • Breaks are not required if the work allows intermittent breaks

As an employee, you are entitled to file wage claims. You cannot be fired for doing so.

Obligatory time off work

Certain circumstances grant employees the guarantee of taking time off. These are the ones protected in Washington:

  • Military leave
  • Jury duty
  • Family or medical leave
  • Pregnancy or disability leave
  • Domestic violence leave

Should an employee need to leave for these reasons, they cannot be terminated or disciplined.

Protect yourself from wrongful termination

If you’ve recently lost your job, and it was due to the above reasons, you could have a case for wrongful termination against your employer.

If you are unsure of your legal standing, we recommend a consultation. We can review your matter and steer you towards the best course of legal action.

Posted on August 31, 2017. Filed under Employment.

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