Global HR 8 min

Wrongful termination: a guide for employees

Written by Barbara Matthews
April 30, 2024
Barbara Matthews


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If you’ve recently been terminated by your employer, you might be wondering whether or not it was legal. 

Of course, this all depends on the employment laws in your country. Each country (and, in the US, each state) has its own set of rules, so what is considered fair in one location might be grounds for wrongful termination in another.

In this article, we’ll clarify what wrongful termination is and whether or not you might have grounds to claim it. So let’s jump right in.

What is wrongful termination?

Wrongful termination encompasses a range of scenarios where an employee’s dismissal violates legal statutes, contractual agreements, or both.

To give some context, 64% of suits filed with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged wrongful discharge in 2022 — defined by the commission as “the dismissal of an employee from their employment by the employer.”

What classifies as wrongful termination?

As mentioned, each country has their own definition of what is deemed wrongful or not. But even if you think you were terminated unfairly, this doesn’t necessarily mean it was wrongful.

For example, if you were let go due to performance issues, or because your employer was downsizing, this doesn’t mean the termination is invalid (provided your employer followed the correct process as laid out by law and internal company policy).

That said, the following scenarios can be classified as wrongful termination:


In nearly all countries, termination due to personal characteristics that are protected under the law — such as race, gender, national origin, age, religion, disability, and sexual orientation — is considered wrongful.

For example, let’s say your company is downsizing and your employer has to either lay you or your colleague off. Your performance review scores are consistently higher, your attendance record is better, and you have more skills and experience. However, you are the one who is dismissed. You may suspect that there is a discriminatory element to this decision, in which case you could possibly sue for wrongful termination.

Causes of discrimination in the workplace by per cent (US only)

Violation of contract

If your employer dismisses you in a manner that breaches one or more terms of your contract, this can be a basis for a wrongful termination lawsuit. 

For instance, if your contract states you can only be let go for cause, and you are suddenly terminated without any justifiable reason, this can be considered a breach of contract.

Whether it’s due to a misinterpretation of the employment contract’s terms, a deliberate disregard for your contractual obligations, or a misjudged attempt to circumvent the contract terms, you may have grounds to claim wrongful termination.

Violation of law

Violation of your country’s employment laws is another type of wrongful termination. In the US, for example, firing an employee for taking legally protected leave, such as that listed under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), may qualify as wrongful termination. 

Note that, if you work remotely and your employer is based in another country, your employer has to abide by the rules of your country. For instance, if your employer is based in California but you are based in Germany, they would not be able to fire you “at-will.”


If an employer dismisses you as a direct response to a protected activity, this often constitutes retaliation. 

Legally protected activities can include filing a complaint about workplace safety, reporting discrimination, whistleblowing on an illegal practice, or participating in an investigation against the employer.

In most countries, retaliation is grounds for wrongful termination.

Reporting or refusing to participate in harassment

Data from a recent survey revealed that slightly more than half of workers have either encountered or observed behaviors at work that are inappropriate, unethical, or unlawful, including bullying (51%), sexual harassment (40%), and racism (30%).

These behaviors create a toxic work environment and violate fundamental employee rights to safety and respect. If you’re facing termination for either reporting or declining to engage in such behaviors, that — similar to retaliation — constitutes wrongful dismissal. 

Reporting or refusing to conduct an illegal act or safety violation

Reporting or refusing to perform an illegal act or safety violation is a major aspect of employment law in many countries, particularly in relation to wrongful dismissal.

This occurs when an employee is dismissed for either speaking about illegal activities happening within the organization, or choosing not to engage in practices that they deem unlawful or unsafe.

If you were asked to do something you knew was unsafe, and was terminated for refusing or reporting it, you likely have grounds for wrongful termination.

What should you do if you think you’ve been terminated wrongfully?

If you believe you’ve been wrongfully terminated, here’s what you should do:

1. Review your contract

Your employment agreement outlines the conditions of your employment, including specific provisions regarding termination. Ensure that you fully review and understand these conditions, including any clauses related to the given reason for your dismissal.

If, after review, you believe the terms were not followed, you may have a case.

2. Gather evidence

Collect any relevant evidence that counteracts the given terms of your dismissal.

For example, if you were terminated due to poor performance, any evidence of positive employee development — such as peer and manager feedback, client feedback, professional development, or strong performance evaluations — can counter this.

Other pieces of evidence that may be helpful include the following:

  • Any emails, messages, recorded calls, and written communications about issues or disputes at work, as well as any warnings or reprimands. If you were on a performance improvement plan (PIP) or similar, these communications are especially important.

  • Any relevant addendums to your employment contract, as well as company policies.

  • Any written statements on your behalf (if you have them).

The most critical step is to seek advice from a lawyer that, ideally, specializes in wrongful termination. Many lawyers offer free consultations to establish whether you have a case.

Legal experts will also be able to advise on whether your termination was wrongful under law. They will then advise you on what the next steps will be.

How long do you have to sue for wrongful termination?

The timeframe for filing a wrongful termination lawsuit varies depending on your country and the nature of your claim. It can range from 180 days in some locations to as long as three years in others. 

The nature of your claim can also influence the timeframe. In the US, for instance, a claim based on breach of contract may have a different filing deadline than a discrimination, harassment, or retaliation claim. 

In general, though, it’s advisable to start the process as quickly as possible.

How often are wrongful termination cases won?

Accurate statistics on the outcomes of wrongful termination cases are difficult to come by. However, surveys by numerous legal firms indicate that the vast majority of claims are settled out of court.

In the US, some firms report success in as little as 5% to 25% of wrongful termination cases, while others put success rates at between 40% and 65%. 

Of course, these rates can vary significantly based on the nature of the claim, the level of evidence the employee is able to acquire and present, and the jurisdiction where the case is filed. 

However, cases with well-documented evidence and a strong legal basis stand the best chance of succeeding or settling. This underscores the importance of thorough preparation and expert legal guidance in pursuing a wrongful termination claim.

How much can you sue for in a wrongful termination lawsuit?

Again, this depends on the laws of your country, but most courts take several factors into account including lost wages, emotional distress caused, and potential punitive damages. 

In the US, most firms state that, on average, their clients receive between $5,000 and $80,000 in successful cases. However, this can reach into six- and potentially even seven-figure sums.

Wrongful termination claims received by Nolo survey respondents in the US

Can I sue my employer for wrongful termination if I’m an at-will employee in the US? 

Yes — under certain circumstances. 

At-will employment allows either the employer or the employee to end the employment relationship at any time and for any reason, as long as it’s legal. 

However, if your termination was due to a discriminatory reason, retaliation, or a violation of public policy, you may have grounds for a lawsuit. For example, if you were dismissed because you were pregnant, or because you took time off to serve with the National Guard, this would be illegal and, subsequently, grounds for wrongful termination.

Avoiding wrongful termination with Remote 

If your current employer has staff based in different countries, there is a higher risk of wrongful termination. This is because termination laws are nuanced, with companies needing a deep understanding of each country’s (or state’s) employment legislation.

To mitigate this — and to ensure that your employer fully understands the relevant laws in your country — they can work with a global HR expert like Remote. We handle all the intricacies of global employment, from paying and managing to onboarding and offboarding, and our in-country experts can advise on the legality of terminations.

To ensure that your employer is doing everything compliantly — and to ensure a seamless, positive experience for you as an employee — ask one of your HR or legal team to speak to one of our friendly experts today!

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