In Colorado, employees are presumed to be “at-will,” meaning that either the employer or employee may ordinarily end the employment relationship at any time and for any reason. Even an employee discharged under “unfair” circumstances may be prevented from asserting a claim due to the employee’s at-will status. There are important exceptions, however, to the traditional employment at-will doctrine.
The willingness of the courts to recognize exceptions to employment at-will doctrine means that employees can sue employers for "wrongful discharge" or "unlawful termination" in a variety of situations. First, employees may assert a wrongful discharge claim if he or she is terminated in violation of an express or implied employment contract. An express contract may require that an employee be discharged only for “just cause,” or only with advance notice. An “implied contract” may be inferred from the circumstances of an employment relationship, such as from verbal or written representations by an employer’s managers. Colorado courts have found, for example, implied contracts arising from progressive discipline policies found in employee handbooks. As a result, employees may be able to assert unlawful termination claims if they are terminated without the progressive discipline steps having been followed.
Second, a wrongful discharge or unlawful termination claim may exist if an at-will employee is fired in violation or Federal or state statutes, or for reasons that contravene Colorado public policy. Employers are legally barred from discharging “at-will” employees under many circumstances, such as:
• Because the employee filed a claim of discrimination, either on the employee’s own behalf or on behalf of another employee.
• Because an employee complains about sexual harassment.
• Because an employee filed a workers’ compensation claim or reported a work-related injury.
• Because an employee testified against the employer in an administrative or court proceeding.
• Because an employee has complained about or reported a violation of employment, environmental or other laws.
• Because an employee is pregnant or needs to take time off under the FMLA.
• Because of an employee’s race, religion, sexual orientation and numerous other protected statuses.
• Because an employee reported fraudulent accounting or billing practices.
As they arise from the loss of employment, wrongful discharge and unlawfful termination claims typically involve significant claimed damages, often in the high six figures. Baird Quinn’s Colorado wrongful discharge lawyers have successfully handled dozens of wrongful discharge lawsuits over the past two decades. Our Denver wrongful discharge attorneys also routinely provide pre-litigation advice and counseling to individuals and businesses with respect to potential wrongful discharge claims – which can be key to the successful negotiation or litigation of a wrongful discharge or unlawful termination claim.
We invite you to contact our Colorado wrongful discharge lawyers if you are either contemplating a wrongful discharge claim or one has been threatened or actually filed against your business. You may obtain additional information regarding our Denver labor and employment lawyers at the following link. Contact Us