A few weeks ago, NPR contributor Juan Williams was fired, ostensibly for making controversial statements on Fox’s The O’Reilly Factor about Muslims. Mixed reactions followed, and while NPR president Vivian Schiller apologizedâ€”but not for Williams’ terminationâ€”Williams was not offered his job back. Luckily for him, he had a fallback job at Fox News. Most people, though, probably aren’t that lucky. If you lose your job, when is it considered wrongful termination?
In a broader sense, “wrongful termination” can mean a firing that violates the terms of your contract with your employer. Unfortunately for the employee, most places follow “at will” employment, which means someone can be fired for any reason, at the employer’s discretion. There are, however, a few exceptions. The first is discrimination; you can’t be fired because of race, gender, religion or age. Sexual orientation is protected in some states, but not all. The second is retaliation, or being fired for because you filed a claim of discrimination. Another exception is for contractual employees, that is, employees whose contracts state limited, specific reasons that they can be fired. However, such fixed terms are uncommon today. You also can’t be fired for refusing to do something illegal. You may also have a claim if your employer didn’t follow the guidelines or correct procedure for termination.
If any of these are the case, a lawyer should be contactedâ€”there are often deadlines and specific procedures set out by employment laws that you will need help navigating through.
But what about Williams? His case doesn’t fall neatly into any of those categories. Can you really be fired for exercising your right to free speech? Absolutely. Most employers have guidelines about this stated in company policy, especially governmental institutions like the CIA. Schiller said the decision to fire Williams was made over an ethics violation, not because he made the statements on a right-leaning news program (when NPR is often accused of being left-leaning). NPR’s employee guidelines do prohibit speaking “where the appearance might put into question NPR’s impartiality” and maintain that coverage should be unbiased, in that employees must “separate [their] personal opinions from the subjects we are covering.” As articles on the Washington Post’s blog and Slate have pointed out, NPR warned Williams more than once that his comments on Fox repeatedly violated the standards for NPR news analysts. Williams, however, said he was “fired for telling the truth,” and O’Reilly called for the removal of public funding to NPR, although he’s hardly the first to suggest it.
Have you ever been wrongfully terminated? Do you think Williams was?
Posted by Nancy on November 15, 2010 at 3:37pm.