Fired for Refusing to Do an Illegal Act
Asking an employee to do something illegal puts them in an impossible position – they either have to break the law or defy their boss. If they refuse to do an illegal act (e.g., commit a crime, break the law, falsify numbers, fake income, recognize revenue early, delete or misreport discounts, illegally dump chemicals, or remove safety mechanisms), it could potentially cost them a promotion, a raise, or even their job. Workers who find themselves in this predicament may feel that it’s a lose-lose situation. The truth is that they may have more legal protections and options than they realize.
If you’ve been fired or are about to be fired for refusing to do an illegal act, you should speak with a Texas whistleblower attorney. You may be able to file a lawsuit seeking compensation for losses related to your termination.
Can I be fired for refusing to do something illegal?
Under both Texas state law and federal law, an employer is prohibited from firing an employee solely for refusing to commit an illegal act. That said, it still happens – and many workers don’t realize that if they’re wrongfully terminated for refusing to do something illegal, they may be able to seek compensation for lost wages and other damages.
What do I do if my boss asks me to do something illegal?
Even if you think your employer may fire you for refusing, you should never break the law just because your boss asked you to. In addition to rejecting their request, you may want to report them to the appropriate agency – for example, if your boss asked you to defraud the government, you could potentially blow the whistle on them by reporting them to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). However, we highly recommend consulting with your own attorney as soon as possible, ideally before making reports to anyone inside or outside your company.
Finally, you may want to contact an employment and civil rights attorney who can advise you on the best steps to take going forward. An attorney can tell you if you’re able to take legal action against your employer, and if so, how to build the strongest case possible.
What should I do if I was fired for refusing to commit an illegal act?
As noted above, the first thing you should do is speak to an experienced employment lawyer who can determine if your firing broke the law. If so, you could be owed compensation for back pay, loss of earning capacity, emotional anguish, and other damages.
You should also try to save and preserve any evidence that could help you prove you were fired for refusing to do something illegal. These materials might include:
- Audio or video recordings
- Copies of company policies
- Corroborating statements from coworkers or other witnesses
- Emails or Slack messages
- Meeting transcripts or notes
- Performance reviews
- Text messages
- Any other evidence that shows or suggests your firing was a result of your refusal to commit an illegal act, not your job performance
What are some examples of illegal acts in the workplace?
These are some of the more common examples of illegal acts that employers ask their workers to commit:
- Cooking the books (altering accounting numbers to misrepresent a company’s earnings)
- Defrauding the U.S. government
- Healthcare fraud
- Illegally dumping toxic chemicals or other substances
- Intellectual property (IP) theft
- Lying to health inspectors or other agencies
- Money laundering
- Removing required safety mechanisms
Can you sue an employer for being unethical?
Maybe – it depends on whether or not their behavior has crossed the line from unethical or unpleasant to illegal. For example, it’s certainly unethical for a supervisor to steal credit for a subordinate’s work, but it’s not necessarily against the law. On the other hand, sexually harassing an employee is grounds for a lawsuit, as is discriminating against a worker because of their age, disability, gender, pregnancy status, or another protected trait; or billing the federal government (e.g., Medicare, Medicaid, TriCare) for services not provided or for the wrong services.
The best way to figure out if you can sue your employer for their unethical behavior is to consult with an employee rights attorney.
Can you sue for wrongful termination in Texas?
Yes. In Texas, as in the rest of the United States, workers are entitled to certain protections. Texas is an at-will state, which means employers can fire employees at will (for almost any reason) – but they’re still not allowed to fire workers for discriminatory reasons, for making a complaint or report of discrimination, for blowing the whistle on unlawful behavior under certain circumstances, or for refusing to commit criminal acts themselves. In cases like these, the employee who was let go may be able to sue their former employer for wrongful termination.
Texas has a very narrow common law wrongful termination protection called Sabine Pilot, named after the Texas Supreme Court case Sabine Pilot Service v. Hauck, which prohibits employers from firing employers for the sole reason of the worker’s refusal to perform an illegal act. Additionally, federal laws like the NDAA protect Texas-based employees, including remote workers, who report fraud, waste, or abuse related to federal contracts or grants. Also, Texas workers who report to management or headquarters in other states like New York and California may be protected by robust whistleblower protections under state laws in those venues.
Between Texas law, federal law, and the laws of other states, Texas workers can often find protection against being fired for doing something illegal.
How much compensation can I get from a wrongful termination case?
The money you can receive from a wrongful termination settlement depends on the statutes your employer violated, among other factors. In most cases, there are three main types of damages plaintiffs can recover:
- Economic damages: Pay that covers lost wages (past and future), lost benefits, and loss of earning capacity;
- Compensatory damages: To compensate for the emotional and mental anguish suffered as a result of the termination, as well as therapy costs; and
- Punitive damages: This sum should be significant enough to punish the employer so that they never fire another employee for refusing to do something illegal.
Why should I contact Kaplan Law Firm?
Kaplan Law Firm is an employment law and civil rights firm that’s been proudly serving Texans since 2015. Founded by Austin Kaplan in Austin, Texas, our firm has represented hundreds of clients in a wide range of employment and civil rights matters, including claims for wrongful termination, retaliation, discrimination, breach of contract, and wage and hour violations.
We’ve recovered millions of dollars for our clients; received dozens of five-star reviews on Google and Avvo; and our attorneys have been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Bloomberg, Fast Company, and on CNN.
Reach out today for a free, confidential case review so we can help you determine if you’re owed compensation.
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