Termination is usually hurtful; but that doesn't make it wrongful, however "wronged" one may feel, if it is not for reasons or under circumstances defined as illegal under employment law. In some instances, the termination per se is not wrong; what makes it wrong can be failure to comply with legal requirements that the termination normally entails, e.g., that it must not be on the basis of race, religion, age or gender-based discrimination.
For example, an employee on probation can be terminated "without cause" and, in many jurisdictions, without notice,. However, in the post-probationary phase of employment, termination without cause must commonly be provided with notice. Failure to give the employee notice in jurisdictions that require it then makes the termination "wrongful" in the legal sense, and legally actionable.
Although the concept of wrongful termination almost always designates wrongful termination by an employer, theoretically, there could be instances in which an employee wrongfully terminates an employment contract, e.g., by quitting without the notice required under the terms of the contract. In such cases, the employer may be able to seek legal redress through litigation and a claim for damages.
The term "wrongful termination" is a legal phrase that describes an employee termination as illegal. A termination becomes illegal when knowingly or unknowingly the letter of termination or the course of termination violates the rules of termination contained in the company contract/policy with the employee or the corpus of the law of employment itself. If there is no written contract in existence, the nature of employment is referred to determine whether the dismissal is inappropriate. In such cases, employee handbooks are considered useful as they generally state the procedure of termination of an employee.
Wrongful discharge is tagged as such if the organization has decided to terminate its member on the basis of race, age, sex, religious or sexual orientation discrimination. This category also includes vengeful termination of any employee. Termination is also wrongful if any employee is terminated for refusing to agree to participate in or perform an unlawful action. This is a major breach of termination regulations that can constitute grounds for a lawsuit on behalf of the dismissed employee.
Cases of wrongful termination are held either in courts or defined judicial committees. Each country has its own particular set of provisions to regulate such cases. If the court finds against the defendant, common outcomes are reinstatement and financial compensation (and possibly punitive damages awarded) for costs and losses of the plaintiff. However, commonly only one of these remedies will be awarded to the winning party.
One variation on wrongful dismissal is what is called "constructive dismissal" (a concept well established in the UK), which amounts to an employee's resignation under duress imposed by an employer's behavior (in terms of committed or omitted undesirable actions and behaviors, e.g., bullying or non-payment of salary, unreasonable policies, etc.)
Under Canadian law, an employer who dismisses an employee "without cause" (i.e., provides no reason for the dismissal) and also without proper notice, the termination constitutes wrongful termination. U.S. law regarding wrongful termination is less uniformly and comprehensively codified, with criteria and consequences varying by state. Instead, almost all states operate within an "employment-at-will" framework, which recognizes the right of an employer to fire an employee without any obligation to provide a reason and the right of an employee to quit without provision of a reason.
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