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Iowa is an “at-will” employment state, which means that employees can resign from their position for any reason (or no stated reason) at any time. According to the Iowa Division of Labor, employers also have the right to terminate an employee at any time, without having to show “just cause.”
This doctrine makes it difficult for employees to challenge a termination and it effectively limits wrongful termination claims primarily to violations of federal or state laws or written and oral contracts.
For example, if you are considered a “contract employee” and your firing violates the terms of your employment contract, you could be eligible to file a wrongful termination claim against your employer.
You could also have a claim if your employer fired you based on your sex, race, color, national origin, religion, age, pregnancy, sexual orientation, or physical or mental disability. A person could also have a wrongful termination claim if they took certain “whistleblower” protected actions such as filing Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) complaints or attempting to comply with government regulations such as health codes. Additionally, a person could have a wrongful termination claim if she was terminated because she applied for or received unemployment benefits
While wrongful termination claims in an at-will employment state can be challenging, they are far from impossible. If your firing was in violation of a state or federal regulation or if a specific employment contract was breached, you should immediately contact a West Des Moines employment lawyer to discuss your rights.
The Des Moines wrongful termination lawyers of Higgins Law Firm, PLLC will review the circumstances of your termination and will help you take decisive action if your employer violated the law. Call (515) 619-9148 or contact us online to set up a consultation to discuss your case.
Employment Status and Protections For Iowa Workers
Employees in Iowa are divided into two main categories: contractors and at-will employees. The distinction between the two is as follows:
- Contract workers – Contract employees usually have a written or oral contract with the employer that outlines the terms and conditions of employment. In some cases, the terms in which employment can be terminated by either party will be outlined in the terms and conditions. The courts will always review the language of the contract to determine what, if any, terms regarding termination are included. Some may include a clause allowing termination “at-will,” while others may delineate the circumstances under which an employee could be fired and the employer’s right to terminate could be limited.
- At-will employees – As mentioned above, the termination of at-will employment by either party can happen at any time, for any reason, without prior warning or notice. Iowa law doesn’t require either the employee or employer to have to show “just cause” for ending the professional relationship.
At will employees rarely have any legal recourse if they’ve been terminated, other than to file for unemployment. The following are circumstances in which an employee could have a valid wrongful termination claim, according to Iowa law:
Discrimination gives rise to a wrongful termination claim. Laws protect all Iowa employees from being terminated on the basis of age, gender, race, religion, age, national origin, disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation. In other words, it is illegal for an employer to consider these characteristics to take an adverse employment action against an employee.
Specific employee activities are protected by law, and employers are prohibited from terminating them on the basis of these actions. Your employer could be guilty of retaliation if they terminate you for:
- Reporting a safety violation
- Refusing to commit a crime for your employer
- Whistleblowing (complaining about illegal activity)
- Filing a Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) claim
- Filing a workers’ compensation claim
- Filing a wage or overtime claim
- Testifying truthfully against your employer in a legal proceeding
- Serving on a jury
- Reporting discrimination
- Requesting accommodation for a disability
These are only a few of the situations in which an employee’s actions are protected from retaliatory termination. Contact an experienced employment attorney to discuss the specifics of your situation right away.
Breach of Contract
If an employee is under a written or oral contract to perform work for an employer, neither the employee or employer can terminate the employment unless the work has been performed or the conditions have been met. What many people don’t realize is that employee handbooks often contain guarantees and conditions that must be honored.
If, for example, an employee handbook states that employees will be given two warnings before termination, the employer may be bound to that condition and cannot terminate the employee until two warnings have been issued and documented. The employer could face a breach of contract lawsuit if they fail to follow the conditions outlined in their company documents.
Iowa, like many other states, has a public policy exemption when it comes to the termination of at-will employees. This exemption makes it illegal for state employers to fire employees for unjust or unethical reasons. If a policy exists (for example, a workers’ right to file for workers’ compensation) and the employer fires them because of their claim, the employee could have a valid wrongful employment claim because they were fired for a protected activity.
Frequently Asked Questions About Wrongful Termination Claims
How can an employment attorney help me?
A lawyer will be able to help you understand all of your rights and what legal options you might have. An attorney will review the circumstances surrounding your termination and will determine if your rights were violated or if a contract was breached.
Because protections for employees are regularly reviewed and expanded by state and federal governments and the courts, you should contact a knowledgeable employment attorney to have them review the circumstances of your termination and determine if it was in violation of an existing contract or a state or federal law.
What are the possible remedies or compensation for my wrongful termination case?
The legal remedies available to you will depend on the specifics of your case. In some cases, people may be eligible to be reinstated in their former jobs when it is appropriate.
In some circumstances, employees with valid wrongful termination claims could be entitled to compensation including lost wages, unpaid wages and overtime, emotional distress, and other damages. A very limited number of cases could involve punitive damages against the employer for illegal or particularly egregious actions.
What time limits apply to my case?
The applicable time limits will depend on your type of case. In discrimination cases, a person generally has 300 days from the date that they learned of discriminatory conduct to file a claim with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission.
The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has a time limit of 300 days from the date of the discriminatory incident. The statute of limitations varies depending on the employer, as the federal government can make limitations periods as short as 45 days while state law usually allows up to two years for other wrongful termination claims.
Contact a West Des Moines Wrongful Termination Attorney Today
If you believe that your employer breached a contract or violated a state or federal law when terminating you, contact West Des Moines wrongful termination lawyer Stuart Higgins at the Higgins Law Firm, PLLC as soon as you can.
Stuart Higgins has been named one of the Top 40 Under 40 by the Association of American Trial Lawyers, one of the Top 100 Trial Lawyers by the National Trial Lawyers, and was named a Rising Star by Great Plains Super Lawyers. He can provide a complete evaluation of your case as soon as you call (515) 619-9148 or contact us online to take advantage of a free consultation.