If you lose your job, you may wonder if you can sue your employer for wrongful termination. Kansas is an at-will employment state, which means that an employer can terminate an employee for any reason or for no reason at all. However, there are limitations on the at-will rule. In this discussion, our employment law and litigation attorneys at Sloan Law Firm provide a general overview of the law on wrongful termination in Kansas.
Kansas is an at-will employment state, as are many other states. Under the at-will doctrine, an employer has the right to terminate an employee without giving a reason, which may make you want to sue for wrongful termination that much more. Federal and state statutes impose limitations on that right. Kansas court decisions also establish common law rights that limit an employer’s ability to terminate an employee at will.
Employment laws and court decisions at both the state and federal level are extremely complex. Applying the limitations to an actual case requires assistance from an experienced employment law attorney. If you think your situation qualifies for an exception to the at-will rule, you should talk with a knowledgeable lawyer. Your attorney will analyze the facts and circumstances and the applicable law, then determine whether you have options for filing a lawsuit against your employer.
Federal and state statutes enacted by Congress and the Kansas legislature create many of the limitations on the at-will employment rule. Some of these laws only apply to certain employers, such as those with a specific number of employees.
An employer may not discharge an employee for any reason that violates federal and state anti-discrimination laws. Those laws make it illegal to terminate or discriminate against an employee on the basis of race, color, ancestry, national origin, sex, religion, disability, pregnancy, citizenship status, age, or genetic information.
Anti-discrimination laws also prohibit employment termination for an employee who participates in efforts or proceedings to stop discriminatory practices. This type of retaliation for employee activities is illegal.
In a number of other circumstances as well, laws prohibit employers from using termination as a means of retaliation for activities of the employee. For example, state and federal laws give employees the right to take off work for specific obligations and personal responsibilities. An employer cannot legally discharge an employee who exercises these rights, which include military leave, voting, jury duty, family and medical leave under the FMLA, and Covid-related leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act / FFCRA. Kansas law also protects an employee who is the victim of domestic violence or sexual assault and takes leave for treatment, counseling, and other necessary services.
In addition, state and federal laws protect workers who file or plan to file workers’ compensation claims, make complaints about workplace safety violations, file wage and hour complaints, or participate in wage/hour activities and proceedings. It is illegal for an employer to discharge an employee for any of those reasons.
Specific Kansas laws also protect care facility workers who report abuse or neglect of residents of adult family homes or care facilities. A different state law protects heath care employees who report potential medical malpractice activities by a health care provider.
A long line of Kansas court decisions establishes a public policy exception to the at-will employment rule. Under the public policy exception, an employer cannot discharge (or otherwise discipline or retaliate against) an employee for any reason that violates public policy.
An example of court application of the public policy limitation protects whistleblowers who report violations of laws relating to the health, safety, and welfare of the public. There are now specific state and federal statutes that protect whistleblowers in certain situations as well. The public policy exception also protects employees who file or plan to file workers’ compensation claims.
As articulated by Kansas courts, the public policy exception has specific criteria. Generally, the public policy in question must be declared by the courts or legislature. The activity also must serve the public good, as opposed to providing private benefit. Finally, state courts only apply the common law public policy limitation if an employee has no other adequate remedy under state or federal law.
An employer may not have an absolute right to discharge an employee if the employment is based on an employment contract between the employer and employee that provides some type of job security for the employee. This type of contract may be express or it may be implied by the facts and circumstances.
In these situations, the employment is not subject to the at-will rule, because of the contractual provisions. When an express or implied employment contract exists and includes job protections, an employee can file a lawsuit for breach of contract against the employer if the job security provisions are violated by discharge.
Whether an employment contract exists — and what the provisions of the contract include — can be difficult to ascertain, especially with an implied contract. If you think you had an employment contract that was violated by termination, you should discuss your situation with an experienced employment law attorney to see if you can sue for wrongful termination.
From our offices in Topeka and Lawrence, our experienced employment attorneys assist clients throughout Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska with violations of federal and state employment laws, including wrongful termination cases We invite you to contact us by calling (785) 357-6311 or using our online contact form.