Define: Wrongful-Termination Action

Wrongful-Termination Action
Wrongful-Termination Action
Quick Summary of Wrongful-Termination Action

A wrongful termination action, also referred to as a wrongful discharge action, is a legal case initiated by a former employee against their previous employer. The lawsuit asserts that the employee’s termination was either in violation of a contract or unlawful. For instance, John was unexpectedly and without any explanation fired from his position as a sales representative. He suspects that his termination was based on his age, as he was the oldest employee in the company. Consequently, John decides to take legal action against his former employer, alleging that his termination was both discriminatory and illegal. This example serves to demonstrate a scenario in which an employee believes that their termination was unlawful or infringed upon their rights. By pursuing a wrongful termination action, the employee aims to hold their former employer accountable for their actions and seek compensation for any damages they may have incurred as a result of their termination.

What is the dictionary definition of Wrongful-Termination Action?
Dictionary Definition of Wrongful-Termination Action

A wrongful termination lawsuit occurs when an individual who was previously employed by a company sues their former employer, alleging unfair dismissal. This can arise if the individual’s contract was breached or if the termination violated legal regulations. It is akin to someone being punished for a wrongdoing they did not commit.

Full Definition Of Wrongful-Termination Action

Wrongful termination, also known as unfair dismissal in the UK, refers to a situation where an employee’s contract is terminated by their employer in a manner that breaches one or more terms of the employment contract or violates statutory employment laws. This overview will delve into the various aspects of wrongful termination, including the legal framework, grounds for wrongful termination claims, procedural aspects, and potential remedies available to aggrieved employees.

Legal Framework

Employment Rights Act 1996

The primary statute governing wrongful termination in the UK is the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA). This Act outlines the rights of employees, including protection against unfair dismissal, redundancy procedures, and the right to a fair grievance process.

Other Relevant Legislation

Other pieces of legislation that play a crucial role in wrongful termination cases include the Equality Act 2010, which prohibits discrimination in the workplace, and the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, which protects employees’ rights in relation to union activities.

Grounds for Wrongful Termination

Breach of Contract

A wrongful termination claim can arise from a breach of the employment contract. This could occur if an employer dismisses an employee without giving the required notice period stipulated in the contract or if the dismissal violates other contractual terms.

Unfair Dismissal

Under the ERA, employees have the right not to be unfairly dismissed. To qualify for protection against unfair dismissal, an employee generally must have worked for the same employer for at least two years. However, there are exceptions to this requirement, particularly in cases involving discrimination or whistleblowing.

The following reasons are commonly recognised as grounds for unfair dismissal:

  1. Discrimination: Termination based on race, gender, age, disability, religion, or sexual orientation, among other protected characteristics.
  2. Whistleblowing: Dismissal for reporting illegal activities or unsafe practices within the company.
  3. Exercising Statutory Rights: Termination for exercising statutory rights, such as taking maternity leave or requesting flexible working arrangements.
  4. Retaliation: Dismissal in retaliation for lodging a complaint against the employer or participating in union activities.

Constructive Dismissal

Constructive dismissal occurs when an employee resigns due to the employer’s conduct, which fundamentally breaches the employment contract. This might include significant changes to job roles without consent, non-payment of wages, or creating a hostile work environment.

Procedural Aspects

Filing a Claim

Employees who believe they have been wrongfully terminated must first attempt to resolve the issue through internal grievance procedures. If this does not lead to a satisfactory outcome, the next step is to file a claim with an employment tribunal.

Time Limits

There are strict time limits for filing a wrongful termination claim. Generally, a claim must be lodged within three months from the date of dismissal. In certain circumstances, this period can be extended, but such extensions are granted sparingly.

Burden of Proof

In wrongful termination cases, the burden of proof initially lies with the employee to demonstrate that their dismissal was unjustified or illegal. However, once a prima facie case is established, the employer must provide a legitimate reason for the dismissal.



One potential remedy for wrongful termination is reinstatement, where the employee is restored to their former position. This remedy is relatively rare and is typically only ordered if there is a reasonable prospect of a harmonious working relationship being re-established.


Re-engagement involves the employee being placed in a similar position within the company. This is more common than reinstatement but still requires a willingness on both sides to continue the employment relationship.


Compensation is the most common remedy for wrongful termination. The amount awarded can include:

  1. Basic Award: Calculated based on the employee’s age, length of service, and weekly pay, subject to statutory limits.
  2. Compensatory Award: intended to cover the actual financial loss suffered by the employee as a result of the dismissal, such as lost wages and benefits. The compensatory award is subject to a statutory cap, although this cap can be lifted in cases of discrimination or whistleblowing.
  3. Aggravated Damages: In cases where the employer’s conduct has been particularly egregious, the tribunal may award aggravated damages to reflect the distress and humiliation suffered by the employee.

Case Law

Several landmark cases have shaped the legal landscape of wrongful termination in the UK. These cases provide valuable precedents and insights into how employment tribunals interpret and apply the law.

Polkey v A.E. Dayton Services Ltd [1987]

This case established the “Polkey principle,” which dictates that an employer must follow a fair procedure before dismissing an employee, even if there are substantial grounds for dismissal. Failure to follow proper procedures can render the dismissal unfair.

British Home Stores Ltd v Burchell [1980]

The Burchell case set out a three-part test for determining whether a dismissal for misconduct is fair:

  1. The employer must have a genuine belief in the employee’s guilt.
  2. The belief must be based on reasonable grounds.
  3. The employer must have carried out a reasonable investigation.

Eastwood and Anor v Magnox Electric plc; McCabe v Cornwall County Council [2004]

This case clarified the distinction between wrongful dismissal (a breach of contract claim) and unfair dismissal (a statutory claim). The court held that claims for wrongful dismissal should be pursued in the ordinary courts, while unfair dismissal claims fall within the jurisdiction of employment tribunals.

Employer Defences

Employers have several defences available in wrongful termination cases, including:

  1. Justification: Demonstrating that the dismissal was for a fair reason, such as redundancy, misconduct, or poor performance.
  2. Procedure Compliance: Shows that the dismissal process complied with statutory and contractual requirements.
  3. Settlement Agreements: Presenting evidence that the employee accepted a settlement agreement in full and final settlement of all claims.


Wrongful termination is a complex area of employment law, encompassing various statutory and contractual protections for employees. Understanding the legal framework, grounds for claims, procedural requirements, and potential remedies is crucial for both employees and employers. Employees must be aware of their rights and the steps they can take if they believe they have been wrongfully terminated. Employers, on the other hand, need to ensure that they follow fair procedures and have legitimate grounds for dismissal to mitigate the risk of wrongful termination claims. By adhering to legal standards and maintaining open communication, both parties can contribute to a fair and just workplace environment.

Wrongful-Termination Action FAQ'S

Yes, you can sue your employer for wrongful termination if you believe you were fired unlawfully or in violation of your employment contract.

Wrongful termination occurs when an employer fires an employee for illegal reasons, such as discrimination, retaliation, or in violation of an employment contract.

To prove wrongful termination, you need to provide evidence that your employer terminated you for illegal reasons, such as discriminatory remarks, written evidence of retaliation, or a breach of your employment contract.

If successful in a wrongful termination lawsuit, you may be entitled to various damages, including lost wages, emotional distress, attorney fees, and potentially punitive damages.

Yes, there is a statute of limitations for filing a wrongful termination lawsuit, which varies by jurisdiction. It is important to consult with an attorney to determine the specific time limit applicable to your case.

In most cases, yes. Many employment relationships are considered “at-will,” meaning either the employer or the employee can terminate the employment without providing a reason. However, there are exceptions, such as when the termination violates anti-discrimination laws or an employment contract.

No, it is illegal for an employer to terminate an employee in retaliation for whistleblowing, which involves reporting illegal activities or violations within the company.

No, it is illegal for an employer to terminate an employee in retaliation for filing a legitimate workers’ compensation claim. Such termination would be considered wrongful.

No, it is illegal for an employer to terminate an employee for refusing to engage in illegal activities. This is known as “wrongful termination in violation of public policy.”

It depends on the circumstances. If the layoff was conducted in a discriminatory manner or in violation of an employment contract, you may have grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit. However, if the layoff was part of a legitimate business decision, it may not qualify as wrongful termination.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 9th June 2024.

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