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

UPDATED: Oct 10, 2011

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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


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 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.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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