Employees in Washington, D.C. are generally considered to have employment at will. This means that an employee may leave employment or an employer can terminate an employee for no cause at any all. Despite this general employment-at-will, however, there are situations in which the firing of an employee is considered to be unlawful. For example, situations involving retaliation often constitute wrongful termination. An employee fired in retaliation may have a legal case against his or her employer for compensation or restitution.
The law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees. Retaliation, according to its legal definition, occurs when a covered individual suffers an adverse action undertaken by his or her employer or labor organization as a result of the employee's participation in a protected activity. If the individual is not characterized as a "covered individual" under the law, if the action taken by the employer is not considered "adverse" or if the action taken by the employee that results in the termination is not a "protected activity," then no retaliation exists under the law.
A "covered individual" includes any person who is directly involved in or closely associated with someone directly involved in certain situations related to employment discrimination. This can include people who opposed unlawful discriminatory practices, people who participate in legal proceedings related to discrimination or people who have requested accommodations related to employment discrimination. A "covered individual" also includes people who respond in some way to a violation of other laws distinct from anti-discrimination laws. These people are often referred to as "whistleblowers." Along those lines, a "protected activity" includes opposition to any form of unlawful discrimination, involvement in a legal proceeding related to discrimination, or requests for any reasonable accommodation due to disability or religion.
The range of adverse actions taken by an employer that can potentially constitute retaliation is broad. In general, an adverse action refers to any action taken by an employer in order to dissuade someone from participating in an employment discrimination proceeding or from opposing unlawful discrimination. Potential adverse actions include termination, denying promotions, refusing employment, threats, baseless negative evaluations, heightened supervision or surveillance, or other forms of assault.
Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "Facts About Retaliation," accessed on March 22, 2015