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Illegal Termination Laws in Kentucky and Tennessee

February 08 2019 | Blog
  • Losing a job often comes as a devastating shock. Our latest article on wrongful termination can help our readers to understand what protections the law may offer if you feel you have been dismissed illegally.


    Under U.S. labor law, the relationship between employers and employees is described as “at-will employment”. This flexible legal arrangement means that either party between which the employment relationship exists may terminate it at any time – without giving justification and without providing a notice. What follows is that, on the one hand, a company isn’t obliged to offer an employee any guaranteed period of employment and, on the other hand, the employee doesn’t have to commit to working for the company for a specific amount of time – unless such terms are stated in a contract.

    While it is true that at-will employment provides employers with ample discretion when it comes to personnel and staffing decisions, employees are protected by both federal and state laws against being fired for illegal reasons. If an employer violates these laws, they can be found guilty of wrongful termination. In this article, we will analyze the most common legal grounds for a wrongful termination claim against an employer in Kentucky and Tennessee.



    Both the federal law and the state law in Kentucky and Tennessee protect employees from being dismissed for reasons that can be deemed discriminatory. According to federal law, the decision to terminate employment may not be based on the following characteristics of an employee:

    • – race
    • – color
    • – national origin
    • – sex
    • – pregnancy
    • – religion
    • – age (applies to employees aged 40 and older)
    • – disability
    • – citizenship status
    • – genetic information


    Before filing a lawsuit against the employer claiming wrongful termination for discriminatory reasons, an employee is obliged to file a complaint with a government agency enforcing anti-discriminatory laws. In Kentucky, one is required to notify the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights whereas the corresponding body in the state of Tennessee is called the Tennessee Human Rights Commission. In Kentucky, in addition to the reasons mentioned above, state laws stipulate that an employee cannot be fired because he or she has HIV/AIDS, engages in off-duty tobacco use or if he or she suffers from occupational pneumoconiosis (also known as black lung disease) due to coal dust exposure. Tennessee state law likewise prohibits employers from terminating an employee because of HIV/AIDS and off-duty tobacco use as well as due to the use of a guide dog.



    Being fired as a retaliatory action is another valid reason to claim wrongful termination. For example, if an employee files a complaint against his or her employer in relation to some unlawful activity and is then fired, there are reasons to suspect that he or she was terminated as retaliation for acting as a whistleblower. Similarly, firing an employee for cooperating with state or federal authorities during the investigation into the employer’s misconduct can also be deemed as retaliation and as such is prohibited under wrongful termination laws.

    In addition, an employee cannot be dismissed for exercising their rights under state and federal laws. Such rights may include taking time off work for family or medical leave or filing a workers’ compensation claim after an accident at work.


    Breach of Contract

    If an employer provides employees with a written contract that describes the rights and responsibilities of both parties, some provisions of the contract may undermine the at-will status of the employment. An obvious example would be a clause in which the employer makes a guarantee not to dismiss the employee until after a set period of time. However, even if the contract doesn’t explicitly make any promises with regard to job security, some of its provisions – such as compensation amounts or fixed payment dates – may also be construed as evidence that a worker is not an at-will employee.

    In addition, the same principles apply to oral and even implied contracts. An implied contract may be a certain work practice, a company’s policy, or a precedent that may lead a worker to believe they enjoy job security and are not employed on an at-will basis.


    Wrongful Termination Outcomes

    Before you take your wrongful termination case to court, you may be able to reach a settlement with your employer and even regain your former job. Nevertheless, if your former employer is uncooperative, or if you decide to go through with a lawsuit for other reasons, you might be able to receive compensation for the loses you have suffered as a result of wrongful termination. Such compensation – also called damages – may cover lost wages and employment benefits. You may also be awarded emotional distress and punitive damages. However, due to the unpredictable nature of lawsuits, it is usually advised to consult an attorney experienced in wrongful termination laws before taking any legal action.

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