Is it illegal for a company to demote you for having an emotional breakdown at work due to some traumatic personal circumstances?

I came into work one day, after having spent the day at the police department regarding some issues with my child and her father, and was having trouble keeping my composure. I confided in my boss about the situation, and asked him if he would be willing to cover my shift because I didn’t feel like I was capable of running the shift effectively, he agreed and sent me home. I was called in the next day by the manager and subsequently demoted, and signed a paper citing I was too emotionally unstable to perform the duties of my job. There was no prior documentation or write-ups.

Asked on October 10, 2011 under Business Law, Washington

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

The first question is, do you have an employment contract? If you do, then its terms about demotions, the nature of your job, discipline, etc. are enforceable, so you may have a claim based on the contract.

If you do not have an employment agreement, however, you are almost certainly an "employee at will." An employee at will may be terminated--or anything less than termination, such as demoted or suspended, transfered to a different job, etc.--at any time, for any reason, without notice or prior write-ups. So if you are an employee at will, your employer could most likely have terminated you if it had chosen, which means it could also demote you.

If you feel that you are, however, being discriminated against because of your sex, your race, your religion, your age over 40, or because of some disability, then you may have an employment discrimiantion claim and should consult with an employment attorney.


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