Generally, an employee can be terminated for any reason or no reason. However, a termination cannot be for an unlawful reason. Some employees come to an attorney believing their termination was wrongful or unfair, but there is a difference between a wrongful termination and an unlawful termination. While a termination may have been wrong, false or unfair, it may not necessarily be illegal.

What makes a wrongful termination versus an unlawful termination?

An unlawful termination is one that violates a state or federal law. For example, employees are protected from discrimination based on a protected status, such as genderracereligionagedisability, and sexual orientation. An employee cannot be terminated due to their protected status.

Employees are also protected from retaliation for reporting unlawful conduct by their employer. For example, an employee cannot be terminated for reporting unlawful discrimination or sexual harassment. Further, an employee cannot be retaliated against or terminated for reporting a work related injury, requesting a workplace accommodation or requesting a leave of absence covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act. Additionally, an employee cannot be terminated for being a whistleblower, meaning that the employee reported that the employer was engaging in unlawful conduct or refused to engage in unlawful conduct. Finally, an employee cannot be terminated for failing a workplace drug and alcohol test or an employment background check unless the employer complies with the laws and regulations that protect employees in these situations.

These are all examples of unlawful conduct by the employer where a related termination would be unlawful. 

Wrongful Does Not Necessarily Mean Unlawful

Some examples of unfair or wrongful termination that are not on their own unlawful may include being terminated for:

  • Complaining about a manager or coworker who treats you poorly, where the treatment is unrelated to a protected status or a report of unlawful conduct;
  • Reporting a bully, where the bully’s conduct is unrelated to protected status or conduct;
  • A poor performance review, when a similar-performing coworker is treated more leniently or favorably; or
  • Conduct that a similar employee engaged in but was not terminated for.

Again, while some terminations may be wrongful or unfair on their own, they could be unlawful if they are related to unlawful discrimination, retaliation or conduct by the employer.

Contact Our Minnesota Employment Lawyers

If you believe you were wrongfully or unfairly terminated but are unsure whether it was unlawful, contact the employment attorneys at Wanta Thome for a free consultation. One of our experienced attorneys will speak with you to evaluate your situation and discuss your rights. When you contact our office, you will always speak directly with an employment lawyer.


Contact us for a no-obligation confidential consultation with our employment law team.

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