It is a common misconception that an unfair or unjust termination is a “wrongful termination” for which liability exists. Kansas is an “employment-at-will” state, which means there is no set term of employment, unless one is specifically agreed to. That means: (a) an employee can quit at any time, and (b) an employer can fire its employee, at any time, for any reason—a good reason, a bad reason, or for no reason at all. So, generally speaking, an employee cannot sue his former employer just because his termination was unfair.
Only when the reason for termination is illegal, has a true wrongful termination occurred. Our laws and public policy define what an illegal reason is. For example, it is illegal to terminate an employee on the basis of race, gender, national origin, and disability, among other reasons. It is also illegal to terminate an employee in retaliation for exercising or attempting to exercise rights under specific statutes, such as these:
- Family and Medical Leave Act (taking leave for a serious health condition, provided certain conditions are met);
- Fair Labor Standards Act (making a good faith complaint to management or the U.S. Department of Labor that the company does not comply with minimum wage and/or overtime laws);
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (opposing unlawful discriminatory practices or making a good faith complaint about an unlawful discriminatory practice);
- Kansas Wage Payment Act (making a good faith complaint to the Kansas Department of Labor about wage payment violations); and,
- Kansas Workers Compensation Act (filing a workers compensation claim).
To sum it up, there is no “wrongful termination” in the abstract. Each termination or proposed termination must be evaluated under the facts and the law.
As a practical matter, sound employment policies and practices tend to insulate employers from liability. If you need advice about a termination or a proposed termination, you should contact competent employment law counsel.