Difference Between Terminated & Discharged

by Neil Kokemuller; Updated September 26, 2017
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Terminating an employee simply means that you end the employment relationship. In general, "discharge" can be a synonym for the more common label "termination" when releasing an employee involuntarily from a job. However, discharge is often used in the legal phrase "wrongful discharge." When you fire somebody in violation of local, state or federal anti-discrimination or anti-retaliation laws, you face a potential "wrongful discharge" lawsuit.

Termination Basics

Many U.S. states have work-at-will laws, which means the employer or employee can legally end an employment relationship at any point. Thus, you generally have the right to terminate an employee for offenses outlined in your employee manual. You can also terminate for poor performance, though it is wise to document the performance over time.

Wrongful Discharge

Work at will doesn't allow an employer to break the law. Federal employment laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act protect workers from wrongful termination for certain reasons. With rare exception, an employer can't fire someone based on age, race, color, gender, national origin, pregnancy or disability, according to FindLaw. Some states have laws expanding protected classes to include people who might face discrimination for their real or perceived sexual orientation. If a terminated employee files a wrongful discharge suit and can demonstrate that one of these factors played a role, damages will likely be awarded. Other common reasons for wrongful discharge lawsuits include breaches of contracted employment arrangements and retaliation for whistleblowing.

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About the Author

Neil Kokemuller has been an active business, finance and education writer and content media website developer since 2007. He has been a college marketing professor since 2004. Kokemuller has additional professional experience in marketing, retail and small business. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Iowa State University.

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