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Wrongful Termination or 'At-will'?

Posted By Emily Ghant (Johnson), Tuesday, November 4, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Hello, my name is Michelle LeGault and I handle employment law matters for employees and companies.   I have had the pleasure of serving as a Member-At-Large of the Atlanta Bar Association Lawyer Referral & Information Service (“LRIS”) Board of Trustees since June 2011.  I often get calls from potential clients who want to know if they can sue their former employer for “wrongful discharge”.  But is this possible in Georgia?  Read on to learn more.

 

Can you sue your former employer for “wrongful discharge”?

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “[e]mployment relationships are presumed to be ‘at-will’ in all U.S. states except Montana.  The U.S. is one of a handful of countries where employment is predominantly at-will.  Most countries throughout the world allow employers to dismiss employees only for cause.   Some reasons given for our retention of the at-will presumption include respect for freedom of contract, employer deference, and the belief that both employers and employees favor an at-will employment relationship over job security.” (http://www.ncsl.org/research/labor-and-employment/at-will-employment-overview.aspx, last accessed 10/22/14)

 

Thus, Georgia, like the great majority of states in the U.S., is an “at-will” state.  This means that an employer can terminate an employee for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all, provided that the termination does not violate anti-discrimination or other relevant statutes.  Likewise, an employee is free to quit for any reason or no reason.  That is, the state of Georgia generally does not impose any restrictions on the ability of an employer to terminate an employee.  There are exceptions for certain classes of employees, such as tenured public school teachers and others working under merit systems, as well as exceptions for engaging in statutorily protected activities such as serving on a jury. 

 

Most employees in Georgia are employed “at-will” and may quit or be fired at the whim of either party.  There are no public policy exceptions in Georgia to the at-will doctrine.  Any lawsuit that an employee may have legal and factual grounds to bring for “wrongful discharge” would be an action for breach of contract; there is no tort (with their attractive unlimited jury damages and potential punitive damages) for wrongful discharge in Georgia.  Breach of contract damages are generally limited to actual damages resulting from the breach.  Punitive damages are not allowed for breach of contract.  Moreover, an employee suing his former employer for breach of contract has a duty to lessen the damages from the employer’s breach.  This is called the “duty to mitigate”.  If the contract of employment is oral, the employee must file suit within four years; for written agreements, the employee has six years within which to file suit.

 

Certain highly placed executives may have a written employment agreement for a specified term of employment which spells out in what circumstances the company may terminate the employment relationship and/or under what conditions the employee may resign.  Those are far and away the exception, and whether a terminated employee may sue her company under such circumstances will largely depend on the terms of the written contract. 

 

When I get calls from potential clients who believe they have been “wrongfully discharged”, I delve into the facts leading up to and surrounding the separation of employment.   I want to know the potential client’s age, gender, ethnic origin, race, religion, disability status, gender identity, pregnancy or lactation status, and any other category protected or potentially protected by state and/or federal law.  I also want to know whether they were recently out on leave of any type, what their performance history has been, including any formal performance evaluations, and whether their unit or company has undergone any changes in management or structure.  Oftentimes what I hear are stories about employees who were treated unfairly but lawfully by their supervisors.  However, sometimes, the facts appear to give rise to one or more claims under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, or another anti-discrimination statute. 


If you believe that you have been a victim of employment discrimination or feel that your rights as an employee has been violated, please call Atlanta Bar Association's Lawyer Referral and Information Service at 404-521-0777.

 

Tags:  ADA  EEOC  employee  employer  employment discrimination  FMLA  labor law  work  wrongful termination 

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What to do after a work injury by Celia Sunne

Posted By Emily Ghant (Johnson), Wednesday, October 1, 2014

My name is Celia Sunne.  I have been practicing in the area of workers’ compensation for over twenty-five years, representing the injured worker throughout the state of Georgia.  If you have been injured on the job you need to be aware of the initial steps that need to be taken. 

 

The First Four Crucial Steps To Take After a Work Injury

 

1. Tell your supervisor immediately and ask for medical attention if you have had a work injury.

 

            One of the biggest mistakes an injured worker makes is to wait before telling the supervisor of the accident or work injury.  Many people wait hoping that the injury is minor and that it will heal in a few days.  While this may be true the accident and work injury should still be reported immediately!  It creates suspicion by the employer if a week or two after your accident you then tell the supervisor of the incident.  In fact most employer manuals or introductory material that is issued upon hire says that all accidents should be reported immediately.  I know that many workers fear for their job and therefore wait before reporting a work injury.  Waiting does not protect you.  It protects your employer’s pocket.  So, report your work injury shortly after it happens and if you need medical attention, ask for it.

 

2.  Don’t let the employer just send you to the doctor that they choose for your work injury.

 

            If you need medical attention for your work injury ask to see the “posted panel of physicians”.  By law the panel should be posted in a prominent place, such as an employee break room.  Often times the panel is posted but it does not list any doctors.  If this is the case take a picture of the panel with your phone so that you can later prove that the employer did not comply with the law.  The employer also will have the panel in a drawer, which is also not in compliance with the law.  If the employer pulls the list from a drawer make a note of who gave it to you, when it was given to you and the conversation that took place.

 

            If the employer does not have a panel listing of at least six doctors in a prominent place then it is invalid and you are allowed by law to see a doctor of your choosing for your work injury. The employer will almost always just send you to an industrial clinic such as Concentra and never give you the opportunity to choose from the list.  And, the employer certainly will not acknowledge that you can see your own doctor for your work injury because they do not have a list.  You have a right to choose from the list so ask for it and then choose.  It would be wise to ask for a copy of the list and then to call a lawyer and ask about the doctors on the panel.  At Sunne Law we are familiar with the good and bad doctors and you want to make sure that you choose the best doctor on the list for your work injury.  Certainly if the employer’s panel is invalid you must contact an attorney so that the doctor you choose will be the best for your treatment and your work injury claim.

 

3. Ask the employer for the workers’ compensation insurance information for your work injury.

 

            The insurance adjuster controls the claim so you need to know your adjuster.  Ask the employer for the workers’ compensation insurance information, the company name, the adjuster, the adjuster’s phone number.  Keep this information in an easily accessible place.  You will want to call the adjuster and confirm when you will be receiving checks for your work injury and to assure that your medical treatment is authorized and your prescriptions will be authorized at the pharmacy of your choosing.  Once you hire an attorney for your work injury they will talk with the adjuster on your behalf.  I think it is essential that the injured worker consult with an attorney to make sure that the insurance adjuster is complying with the law.  I have seen many cases where the adjuster has actually not been completely straightforward about the injured worker’s rights, such as the right to mileage reimbursement.

 

4. Don’t agree to a nurse case manager for your work injury until you have spoken with a lawyer.

 

            After an injured worker is authorized to begin treating a nurse case manager will suddenly appear on the case.  The nurse case manager will tell the injured worker that she is neutral and only there to assist the worker with his or her needs.  Rarely does the nurse case manager tell the injured worker that her participation is voluntary, that the injured worker must agree in writing to her.   The nurse case manager does help coordinate medical but she also advocates for a swift return to work, even if the injured worker has not seen much improvement. 

 

            You have a right to decline the nurse case manager’s participation.  If you do agree to have her work on your claim then you should never let her sit in with you at your doctor’s appointments.  If you have been injured and contacted by a nurse case manager or rehabilitation consultant then you need to contact a lawyer to discuss your rights.  Frankly, if a nurse case manager is assigned to your case by the insurance adjuster you need a lawyer to protect your rights.  This would certainly be a tipping point to indicate that you need someone on your side to advise you and to advocate for you. 

 

 

*** If you feel as though you are need of an attorney to help you with your claim, please contact Atlanta Bar Association's Lawyer Referral and Information Service at 404-521-0777. ***

Tags:  employee  employer  employment  injury  job  lawsuit  work  workers compensation 

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