Hawaii is an at-will employment state, which among other things, means that in most cases, an employer can fire an employee for any reason without facing liability. There are limitations to the leeway at-will employment provides, however, in that employers cannot terminate employees for unlawful reasons, and if they do, they may face wrongful termination claims. If you lost your job recently and you believe your employer’s motives for firing you were discriminatory, it is smart to speak with an attorney about what measures you can take to protect your interests. The dedicated Honolulu wrongful termination attorneys of Bickerton Law Group LLLP are mindful of the considerable stress and economic strain an unjust job loss can cause, and if we represent you, we will aggressively pursue the maximum damages recoverable under the law on your behalf.State and Federal Protections Against Wrongful Termination
Under Hawaii law, employment is at-will unless the employee and employer have an employment contract. The at-will rule is not absolute, however, and if an employer terminates an employee for a discriminatory reason, it may constitute a wrongful termination.
Multiple state and federal laws explain what constitutes discriminatory grounds for firing an employee. For example, the Hawaii Employment Practices Act (the Act) states that it is illegal for an employer to fire an employee due to their race, sexual orientation, sex, which includes their gender expression and identity, age, religion, or disability. It is also unlawful under the Act to terminate an employee because they are the victim of domestic or sexual violence, have an arrest or court record, or due to their marital status.
Similarly, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act provides that it is illegal for an employer to fire a person because of their color, religion, sex, national origin, or race. Other federal laws prohibit employers from terminating employees due to their age, mental or physical disabilities, or because of pregnancy or childbirth.
Further, state and federal whistleblower statutes prohibit employers from terminating employees in retaliation for reporting unlawful or discriminatory activity or for refusing to participate in illegal acts. Such laws also dictate that it is unlawful for an employer to fire an employee for exercising their legal rights; for example, they cannot terminate an employee for taking medical or family leave or for filing a workers’ compensation claim following a work injury.Establishing Liability for Wrongful Termination
People terminated in violation of state or federal law might be able to establish that their employers should be held liable for wrongful termination. A plaintiff in a wrongful termination case must first offer prima facie evidence that they were wrongfully terminated. In other words, they must produce evidence that, on its face, is adequate to show that they were fired for engaging in a protected activity or for a discriminatory reason. Typically, such evidence will be circumstantial in nature. If a plaintiff meets this burden, the defendant will often attempt to avoid liability by arguing that they had a legitimate and lawful basis for terminating the employee. If the defendant offers sufficient evidence that they fired the plaintiff for a valid reason, the plaintiff must then establish that the grounds proffered by the defendant are mere pretext.
It is important to note that before filing a wrongful termination lawsuit, a plaintiff must file a claim with the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission (HCRC) within 180 days or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 300 days of the alleged discriminatory act, otherwise they may be barred from seeking compensation.Confer with a Skilled Honolulu Wrongful Termination Attorney
State and federal law dictates that employers cannot fire employees for discriminatory reasons or for exercising their legal rights, and employers that unlawfully terminate their employees should be held accountable for the losses they cause. If you were terminated for unlawful reasons, it is smart to confer with an attorney to discuss whether you may be able to pursue a wrongful termination claim. The skilled Honolulu attorneys of the Bickerton Law Group LLLP are dedicated to helping employees seek justice for the harm caused by illegal employment practices, and if you hire us, we will zealously pursue the best legal outcome possible under the facts of your case. We have an office in Honolulu, and we regularly represent people in employment matters in Honolulu and cities throughout Honolulu, Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii Counties. You can contact us through our online form or by calling us at (808) 599-3811 to set up a confidential meeting.