Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Wrongful Termination Definition:

The unlawful termination of an employment contract.

Related Terms: Wrongful Dismissal, Unfair Dismissal, Wrongful Discharge, Employment at Will, Dismissal

At common lawemployment is employment at-will - the term being at the discretion of the employer. However, in modern commerce, there may be contract terms between the employer and employee that suggest a specific term or even an indefinite term to the employment contract, or there may be statute law which supersedes the theory of an employer's right to terminate the employment at any time, for whatever reason (employment at-will).

In the event of an employment contract which states a term, that contract may specify the conditions in which discharge (aka termination) may occur before the end of the term. If termination occurred outside those stated reasons, the discharge is said to be wrongful termination and thus exposing the employer to damages as a breach of contract, or in tort (see the discussion about this in the Legal Definition of Wrongful Discharge).

Similarly, if termination occurs for a cause prohibited by law, it is also said to be wrongful termination.

pink slipWrongful termination is one of several terms used by a variety of jusrisdictions to refer, essentially, to the same cause of action: a claim in breach of contract or in tort for the ending of an employment contract by an employer, for some unlawful reason:

Wrongful termination
may also occur for other reasons extrinsic to the employment contract, such as the application of employment statutes in some jurisdictions that prohibit retaliation termination for certain reasons, such as, for example:

  • Generally, the exercise of constitutional or political rights;
  • The involvement in union activities;
  • Absence because of jury duty; and
  • The refusal of the employee to perform tasks that are in violation of the law.


  • Dietz, Laura Hunter, Wrongful Discharge, 82 Am. Jur. 2d (Thomson-West, 2003)
  • Harnad, Glenda, and others, Employer-Employee Relationship, 30 C.J.S. (Thomson-West, 2007)

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