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Detroit Employment Law Blog

Can quitting a job be the same as being fired?

Michigan is an employment-at-will state, which means employers can dismiss employees for no reason, good reason, or even a bad reason.

This does not mean, however, that an employer can fire an employee for an illegal reason. When that happens, it's called wrongful termination and the wronged employee might have a legal claim.

What are the limitations of a noncompetition clause?

It's common for employment agreements to contain a noncompetition clause. Many employers expose trade secrets and client lists to employees and they don't want their employees using this confidential information to compete against them unfairly. As long as noncompete clauses are reasonable, courts will often require employees to adhere to them. However, clear limitations apply to these agreements and an employee subjected to an unreasonable noncompetition clause may not have to follow it.

In order for a court to enforce a noncompetition clause, the following must be true:

What's a 'qui tam' action?

A qui tam action is one that an employee initiates against an employer that committed fraud against the government. Qui tam actions are not that common, however, because employees are often afraid to report their employer's unlawful activity -- due to a fear of negative employment retaliation by the employer. This is why employees who wish to report the government fraud committed by their employers need to learn about the federal whistleblower laws that protect them.

Employees also need to know that qui tam actions are filed under seal. In this way, the identity of the whistleblower remains confidential and the employee may be able to remain anonymous. The problem is, employers are often able to deduce which employee blew the whistle on them, even if the identity of the complainant remains a secret in the legal paperwork. Moreover, if -- after the government fully investigates the matter -- the complaint moves into litigation, the employee's identity will later be known by the employer during the legal proceedings.

Were you fired because of age discrimination?

Age discrimination is real and as the baby boomer generation gets older, it's only becoming more widespread. This kind of discrimination might be subtle and difficult to pinpoint in some cases. A job applicant could simply get passed up because he's over 50 -- but the hiring manager says it's because he's unqualified. It could also be overt and obvious when a manager asks an employee, "Aren't you ever going to retire?"

However it happens, age discrimination is unlawful. The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) outlaws discrimination based on age against anyone who is 40 years of age or older. This law prevents discrimination in all areas of employment including pay, termination of employment, hiring, promoting, laying off, benefits, training and other conditions relating to a protected worker's employment. Any policies or practices instituted by an employer that applies to everyone -- but specifically and negatively impacts someone who is 40 years of age or older -- could also constitute as a form of age discrimination.

What can I do to stop workplace discrimination?

Imagine you've been working at a Detroit manufacturing facility for years, and suddenly, you look around and notice that everyone you see at work is from one racial demographic. After looking deeper into the practice you discover that there could be a terrible reason why your black and Latino friends were denied their job applications and why you were denied the last several promotions: Job-related racial discrimination.

If it's clear that your workplace has instituted a policy of racial discrimination that it applies to hiring, pay, promotions and other work-related decisions -- and you have been hurt by this policy career-wise or financially -- you might want to look into whether you can stand up for your legal rights in court.

Example of a successful whistleblower retaliation suit

If you witness wrongful or unlawful activity at your workplace, you have every right to report that activity to your superior — or to the authorities — without fear of negative employment consequences. If your employer decides to retaliate against you for reporting such information, i.e., for being a whistleblower, you might be able to pursue justice and financial restitution by filing a whistleblower retaliation lawsuit in federal court.

One recent example of a successful whistleblower retaliation lawsuit happened in 2015. It relates to a New York hedge fund called Paradigm Capital Management. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a lawsuit against Paradigm claiming that it retaliated against an employee. According to the suit, their employee reported to the SEC that unlawful misconduct was happening at Paradigm. The SEC lawsuit was successful, and this employee received 30 percent of the amount collected by the SEC, which totaled $600,000.

How can I tell if my termination was a breach of contract?

Wrongful termination can happen in numerous different ways. For example, Michigan employees might be wrongfully terminated as a result of racial discrimination or as a result of retaliation for making a complaint about sexual harassment. In other cases, an employee could be wrongfully terminated in a way that violates his or her employment contract.

An employment contract is either a written document signed at the beginning of employment, or an "implied contract" that was based on what was said to the employee, what is written in the employee manual or something else. Terminated employees can evaluate whether they were wrongfully terminated by reviewing the following questions:

  • Did you have a working contract? Did your termination fall under the permissible reasons for losing your job? Did your employer follow the written termination procedure?
  • Did you have an employee handbook? Did your termination fall under the potential reasons for disciplinary measures and termination under the handbook?
  • Did your manager or employer make any unwritten promises to you? Perhaps he or she told you that you had tenure or a guarantee of employment.
  • Did your employer or manager promise that you would only lose your job under certain conditions?

What should be included in an employment contract?

Your employment contract governs the terms of the employee-employer relationship. The employment contract should, therefore, cover a wide variety of areas, from the benefits the employee can expect to receive to the terms and conditions by which a termination of employment may occur.

For a more thorough review of the most necessary points to include in an employment contract, take a look at the following list:

  • The term or period of employment: How long will the contract last? Will it be indefinite, or does it have a specific period of years that it will endure before it needs to be renegotiated?
  • The responsibilities assumed by the employee: This largely refers to work duties and work expectations
  • The types of health, life insurance and disability insurance benefits the employee can expect to receive
  • Policies that govern sick days and vacation time
  • Conditions under which a termination of the employee will occur
  • Noncompetition clauses that limit the ability to the employee to compete against the employer after terminating employment
  • Nondisclosure agreements that pertain to client lists and company secrets
  • Ownership agreements that pertain to the materials that the employee produced. Usually, these clarify that such materials belong to the company
  • Directions for how disputes must be resolved -- usually through mediation or arbitration

Federal laws protect whistleblowers in a Michigan workplace

Your bosses always say they have an open-door policy. Come in and talk about anything that concerns you at any time, they say.

So, when you discover that your department is using substandard parts to make your company's best-selling product, you tell the boss. Soon after, you find that open door slammed in your face.

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