The Law Offices of Raymond R. Jones has handled thousands of cases throughout our years of representing clients in Washington D.C. Attorney Raymond R. Jones takes an aggressive approach to his cases and will fight persistently for your workplace rights. You can trust that Attorney Jones will do his best to protect your rights in the workplace, from combatting wrongful termination and upholding minimum wage rights to protecting whistleblower actions.
Schedule a free initial consultation with our employment lawyer in Washington D.C. when you contact our firm today.
“At-Will” Employment and Wrongful Termination
Generally, most employees in the District of Columbia are “at-will” employees, which means an employer can fire an employee at any time for any (or no) reason as long as it is not in violation of another law, such as discrimination, or it has not been established otherwise in a written or verbal contract. Likewise, an employee may also voluntarily end their employment at any time for any reason.
With that in mind, an employee may take legal action if they feel they have been wrongfully terminated against the terms of “at-will” laws or their employment contract.
To bring forward a wrongful discharge case, the employee (also the plaintiff filing the complaint) must meet the following criteria:
- The plaintiff was an employee of the employer
- The plaintiff was fired or experienced another kind of adverse employment action
- The plaintiff’s protected conduct was a motivating or substantial factor in the employer’s decision to take the adverse employment action.
By law, a wrongfully discharged employee is entitled to compensation for lost wages and benefits, as well as for their pain and suffering and other punitive damages.
Some examples of protected employee behavior that a person may not be legally fired for are:
- Protected whistleblowing
- Refusing to engage in fraudulent business practices
- Cooperating with a government investigation or refusing to lie to a government official
- Being discriminated against for their race, sex, parental status, other protected characteristics
- Exercising their right to take unpaid family and medical leave
- Demanding their wages be paid promptly
If an employer terminates an employee for any of the above reasons, the employee may file a wrongful termination claim.
Minimum Wage and Overtime Laws
The District of Columbia also has specific minimum wage and overtime laws protecting employees’ worker rights. The District of Columbia Minimum Wage Act increased the minimum wage to $15.00 per hour on July 1, 2020, and also provided for a gradual increase in the minimum cash wage to tipped employees to $5.00. The act also establishes that most employees in D.C. are entitled to 1.5 times their “regular rate” for any hours worked beyond 40 in a work week. Under this act, an employer may be liable for up to 4 times the amount of any unpaid wages or overtime. Further, civil penalties for violation could include up to $10,000 in fines and/or up to 6 months in prison.
Some employees are exempt from D.C.’s minimum wage requirements, including:
- Disabled workers who have been issued a certificate by the United States Department of Labor authorizing the payment of less than the minimum wage (D.C. Code § 32-1003(d))
- Minors under 18 years old who may be paid the federal minimum wage (DCMR § 902.4)
- Students employed by institutions of higher education who may be paid the federal minimum wage (7 DCMR § 902.4)
- Tipped employees who receive gratuities in an amount at least equal to the difference between the hourly wage and the minimum hourly (D.C. Code § 32-1002(f))
Some exceptions to D.C.’s overtime and minimum wage laws include:
- Casual babysitters (7 DCMR § 999.2)
- Lay members of religious organizations (Code § 32-1002(2))
- Newspaper deliverymen (D.C. Code § 32-1004(a)(2))
- Outside salesmen (7 DCMR § 999.2)
- Volunteers (e.g., educational, charitable, religious, nonprofit) (D.C. Code § 32-1002(2))
- United States government employees (D.C. Code § 32-1002(3))
- “White collar” employees (D.C. Code § 32-1004(a)(1))
One important topic of D.C. (and federal) employment law, beyond wrongful termination and minimum wage, is whistleblower protection, particularly for government employees.
Accordingly, D.C.’s whistleblower protection laws seek to:
- Enhance employees’ rights to challenge the actions or failures of their agencies and to express their views without fear of retaliation
- Provide new rights and remedies to guarantee and ensure that public offices are truly public trusts
- Hold public employees personally accountable for failure to enforce the laws and for negligence in the performance of their public duties
- Ensure that the rights of employees to expose corruption, dishonesty, incompetence, or administrative failure are protected
- Protect employees from reprisal or retaliation for the performance of their duties
- Motivate employees to do their duties justly and efficiently
The provisions in this law specifically apply to employees of all D.C. government agencies, including employees of subordinate agencies, independent agencies, and the DC Public Schools, Board of Trustees of the University of the District of Columbia, and District of Columbia Housing Authority.
The law requires that employees of the D.C. government make protected disclosures such as violations of rule or regulation, procurement and contract issues, gross mismanagement, gross misuse or waste of public resources or funds, and abuse of authority in connection with the administration of a public program or a public contract.
A supervisor may not retaliate against an employee for such protected disclosure (whistleblowing). If an employee faces retaliation, like termination for their protected whistleblowing, they can bring a civil action in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia or challenge the supervisor’s action in an administrative review, arbitration, or adjudication of that action. Be aware that this civil action must be filed within 1 year after a violation occurs or after the employee first becomes aware of the violation. Judicial relief and damages may include injunction, reinstatement to the same position held before the retaliation, reinstatement of the employee’s seniority rights, restoration of lost benefits, and other compensatory damages.
If you seek to take legal action in response to a workplace violation, such as wrongful termination or employer retaliation for a protected action, consult an experienced Washington D.C. employment lawyer immediately to get started on your case. In most employment lawsuits, the statute of limitations to file is 1 year, so it is best to take legal action as soon as you are aware of a violation of your rights as a worker. The Law Offices of Raymond R. Jones can evaluate your employment situation and help you prepare an appropriate claim to recover from any workplace violations against you.
Schedule a free consultation with the Law Offices of Raymond R. Jones to learn more. Call (202) 640-2889 or contact the firm online today.
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