As an employee in the state of Tennessee, you have legal rights designed to ensure fair workplace treatment in exchange for your labor. To be wrongfully terminated means you were fired in violation of a legal right. Although Tennessee is an at-will employment state, many exceptions exist to the at-will employment doctrine, some of which are below. Nashville wrongful termination lawyer Curt Masker is a relentless advocate for workers who seeks maximum compensation for victims of wrongful termination.What Are My Employment Law Legal Rights?
Tennessee employees have legal rights in the employment relationship that fall under one of four broad categories: (1) Statutory; (2) Common Law/Public Policy; (3) Contractual; and/or (4) Constitutional.1. Statutory Rights in Tennessee Employment
Federal and Tennessee laws prohibit mistreatment in employment based on protected characteristics and protected activity. For example, it is unlawful for an employee to be terminated due to an employer’s:
- Retaliation because you:
- Opposed unlawful discrimination or harassment for yourself or a coworker
- Opposed wage violations, e.g., not being paid overtime
- Requested reasonable accommodations for your disability
- Requested or took protected FMLA leave
- Requested or took protected military leave – USERRA
- Complained about fraudulent medical billing of the state or federal government
- Engaged in protected free speech on a matter of public concern
- Discrimination based on your:
- Violation of Protected Leave Rights
Tennessee courts have identified several common law protections against being terminated in violation of public policy. As such, an employer is prohibited from discharging an employee because the employee invoked a right granted by Tennessee public policy. For example, wrongful termination against public policy may include an employer firing an employee for:
- Performing jury duty
- Obeying a lawful subpoena
- Testifying truthfully in a lawsuit involved the employer
- Submitting a worker’s compensation claim
- Refusing to violate OSHA and other safety laws
- Taking a meal break in accordance with state law
Employees with an express or implied employment contract have additional legal rights to assert against their employer. Legal claims may include breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation, and unjust enrichment. In limited circumstances, an employer’s written representations that an employee’s job is secure may create an implied employment contract. Also, union employees have contractual rights via their collective bargaining agreement.4. Constitutional Rights of Employees in Tennessee
Public employees may be protected from wrongful termination by the U.S. and Tennessee Constitutions. The First Amendment affords public employees free speech rights on matters of public concern. In addition, public employees may have property and liberty interests in continued employment, resulting in due process requirements such as a Loudermill hearing. If you believe you were wrongfully terminated, call Nashville-based wrongful termination lawyer Curt Masker for a Free Attorney Consultation to discuss your case and learn your legal options.Next Steps To Protect Your Legal Rights
If you were recently terminated under questionable circumstances, then you may be a victim of wrongful termination. Follow the 4 steps below to protect your legal rights.
1. Do not lash out
You are rightfully extremely angry and you probably want revenge, but do not:
- Send rude texts or e-mails to your former boss or co-workers
- Threaten to sue your former employer
- Vent on social media (do not post or tweet at all about your work situation)
Creating a paper trail of angry and inflammatory comments about your old employer will be used by the company’s lawyers to paint you in a negative light in front of a judge and jury. You want to be the calm and reasonable party in an employment law case.
2. Do not sign anything
Your employer may present you with a severance agreement. Do not sign it until you have an experienced severance attorney review the specific facts of your termination. Ask the company for a day to review the agreement and then immediately contact an severance package lawyer. For more information on severance agreements, see our Severance Agreements page. If you are not sure whether or not you need an attorney, call Nashville-based wrongful termination attorney Curt Masker for a Free Attorney Consultation.
3. Collect potential evidence
If your case ends up in court, you want to lay a solid foundation for any potential legal claims. Even if you don't end up in court, you need to have a case that a judge could find credible in order for your employer to consider settling the claim in your favor. Employment law cases are often difficult and you will need evidence to show that your termination was against the law. Useful evidence in employment cases may include:
- Text messages
- Audio or video recordings
- Names and contact information for potential witnesses
- Performance evaluations
- Disciplinary warnings, reprimands, or write-ups
- Job description
- Awards, accolades, or other evidence that shows you performed well
- Attendance records
- Employee handbook, manual, or other documents describing work rules, policies, and procedures
- Pension benefits and retirement plan information, including monthly statements, and any ESOP plan materials
- Separation notice (required within 24 hours under the Tennessee Employment Security Law)
- Any other documents or records you believe are relevant
Tennessee is a one-party consent state which means you can potentially record your termination meeting without your employer’s consent. Nashville wrongful termination attorney Curt Masker has successfully leveraged audio recordings against employers on numerous occasions. Just be aware of any company policy or procedure that prohibit such recordings (especially in sensitive industries such as healthcare where HIPPA privacy protections apply).
When collecting potential evidence, do not engage in “self-help” discovery by taking documents or accessing information that you have no right to access or possess. Doing so could potentially hurt your employment law claims and expose you to counterclaims. Your lawyer can use formal discovery tools to request documents and records later in the case.
4. Immediately Contact a Tennessee Employment Lawyer
Do not underestimate the peace of mind that comes from understanding your legal rights. Ignorance is not bliss; what you do not know can legally harm you. Contact an wrongful termination attorney serving Nashville for a Free Attorney Consultation at the number above or online.How Much Is a Tennessee Wrongful Termination Case Worth?
The value of a given case varies significantly based on many factors, most of which are outside of your control, including the severity of the discrimination, how much money you have lost in earnings and benefits (if terminated), the type and quality of evidence, whether or not you reported the discrimination, and if the harasser or company have discriminated against people in the past.
But there are four general categories of damages for wrongful termination cases:
- Lost wages and benefits (your former weekly earnings + value of employer-paid benefits x the number of weeks you have been out of work)
- Compensatory* (emotional pain and suffering resulting from the discrimination)
- Punitive* (to punish and deter the employer for its discriminatory acts in especially bad cases)
- Attorney’s fees and expenses if you go to trial and win
*Note that compensatory and punitive damages are capped under federal and Tennessee law based on the size of the company as follows:
- 8-14 employees ($25,000)
- 15-100 employees ($50,000)
- 101-200 employees ($100,000)
- 201-500 employees ($200,000)
- 501 or more employees ($300,000)
These limits do not apply to backpay, interest on backpay, front pay, or any equitable relief.How to Submit a Workplace Complaint
If you are still employed and believe your legal rights are being violated, follow these steps.
- Send a respectful, written complaint. Work e-mail is fine but include relevant dates and immediately print off a copy. In the complaint, be helpful and professional, offer solutions to the problem, and do not threaten.
- Be specific. Narrow down the key facts. Do not submit an excessively long complaint.
- Avoid Legal Conclusions. Do not say “this is illegal discrimination.” You can say the same thing with more tact: “I feel like I’m being treated differently because of my [protected characteristic such as gender, race, age, etc.]….” The latter is not a legal conclusion and it is sufficient without being overly aggressive.
- Send Your Complaint To the Right Person. Follow the company’s reporting procedures or if the company does not have a reporting policy use your best judgment (usually human resources).
Remember: Human Resources are not your friend. Your employer pays human resources to protect the company from you, not vice versa. Always be respectful, but keep in mind that HR personnel will not risk their careers to stick up for you.Know Your Legal Options – Call Today
It’s time to fight back. You deserve justice and compensation for your wrongful termination. Contact experienced Nashville wrongful termination lawyer Curt Masker today for a Free Attorney Consultation at the number above or online.