Georgia employers have vast discretion and may fire employees at will for any or no reason. However, this discretion is not absolute, and employers can face legal action under certain circumstances.
Wrongful termination may be grounds for business and commercial litigation. This occurs when an employer fires an employee for reasons that are prohibited under federal and Georgia law. Reasons for termination that are incorrect but not illegal, such as an inaccurate performance evaluation, generally do not constitute grounds for wrongful termination.
Georgia and federal laws prohibit Job termination based on discrimination against employees in protected classes. Protected categories include race, religion, color, gender, national origin, age, and disability. Citizenship and place of birth may not play a role in the decision to fire an employee.
The Georgia Fair Employment Practices Act of 1978, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 are among the laws that protect workers against discrimination.
Employers should not terminate an employee for engaging in a protected activity. Employees may report wage violations, illegal harassment, or potential safety violations without retaliation.
Likewise, employees have whistleblower protections for reporting violations of health and safety laws. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 is among the federal laws that protects workers.
Employers must comply with any contracts or collective bargaining agreements they have with employees. These usually set forth the terms of the employment, reasons justifying termination and the process for firing workers. Good cause must support the firing if there is an implied contract.
Employers may not require employees to take lie detector tests as a condition of employment. There are exceptions for applicants for certain government jobs and employment in the pharmaceutical manufacturing and security industries. There are other exclusions for circumstances that cause specific economic loss or injury to employers.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows certain workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for health or family reasons under certain circumstances. Qualified workers may not be terminated for taking FMLA leave.
Employees may file claims with agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Labor, Equal Opportunity Commission, and the Georgia Commission on Equal Opportunity. These and other government agencies have numerous investigative and enforcement powers.
Employees can also file a private civil claim. They may seek backpay, future wages, liquidated damages, emotional distress and punitive damages and legal fees.
Attorneys can assist wrongfully terminated employees and provide options. They may help them pursue the correct legal action.