Most employees in New Mexico are “at will,” meaning a boss can terminate them at any time and for almost any reason.
However, employers do not have unlimited discretion. Many different laws prohibit firing an employee in certain situations. When an employer breaks these laws, you might have a case for wrongful termination and can receive financial compensation for the economic losses you have suffered.
There is no single law that deals with New Mexico wrongful termination. Instead, you will need to look at laws scattered across the legal landscape. Below, we summarize some of the most important grounds for claiming wrongful termination.
For more information, please contact our Las Cruces wrongful termination lawyers.
Some employees are not at-will. Instead, they have certain rights guaranteed in an employment contract. If you signed a contract when hired, then find it right away and read through it carefully. It should explain when your boss can terminate you and what rights you have if you are terminated. For example, you might have the right to challenge a termination or the right to be reinstated at a future date.
Generally, most employment contracts will explain that your boss can fire you “for cause.” The contract might describe what qualifies as sufficient good cause to justify letting you go. Check to see whether the reason given falls within the contract definition. If not, you might have grounds for bringing a lawsuit.
Contractual rights can also be created in other ways. For example, an employee manual or handbook, or an employment letter, might create a binding contract. Everything will depend on the language used, so show it to a New Mexico wrongful termination attorney to analyze.
Both the federal government and New Mexico have laws that prohibit firing employees based on certain protected characteristics. Under federal law, an employer cannot terminate you or take any adverse employment action because of your:
- National origin
- Age (if over 40)
- Genetic information
Federal antidiscrimination law does not apply to every employer. Instead, your employer must have at least 15 employees for the laws to apply (at least 20 for age discrimination).
New Mexico law largely tracks federal law, but it applies to any employer with four or more employees. State law also protects against discrimination on the basis of additional characteristics:
- Serious medical condition
- Sexual orientation (must have 15 or more employees to apply)
- Marital status (must have 50 or more employees to apply)
Antidiscrimination law also sets out a procedure that employees must follow when complaining about discrimination. In particular, you must file a complaint with an agency before you can go to court and file a lawsuit. You can file your complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Bureau in most cases, or else you can file with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). These agencies share information about discrimination charges filed.
Harassment is a form of discrimination that falls under both state and federal antidiscrimination laws. As defined by the federal government, harassment is any unwelcome conduct based on a protected characteristic listed above. Unwelcome conduct is harassment when:
- You have to endure the harassment as a condition of employment.
- The conduct is sufficiently pervasive or severe that a reasonable person would find the environment abusive, hostile, or intimidating.
A classic example of harassment is quid pro quo sexual harassment where a boss propositions an employee to sleep with them, and the employee gets terminated after refusing.
When Is It Harassment?
Hostile work environment claims do not require a quid pro quo. Instead, the following conduct makes the environment hostile:
- Name calling
- Slurs or epithets
- Offensive pictures or other imagery
- Unwelcome touching
Harassment is not limited to sexual harassment. Any harassing behavior based on a protected characteristic could qualify. For example, a person could be harassed because they are much older than other employees. Jokes, insults, and offensive statements about old people could qualify as harassment if the work environment becomes abusive or hostile.
The amount of unwelcome conduct needed to make a workplace harassing will depend on the circumstances. One incident of unwelcome touching, such as a grope or a punch to the face, probably qualifies. However, a single offensive joke or offensive picture probably does not.
The harasser does not need to be a boss but could include a coworker, customers, or vendors. However, employers are not always responsible for harassment. If people other than your supervisor create the hostile work environment, then you must show that your employer knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to take corrective action.
As this summary makes clear, harassment is a complicated area of law. You should consult an attorney with experience in New Mexico wrongful termination cases to determine whether you have a valid legal claim.
Your employer also cannot terminate you for validly exercising a right. In many situations, retaliation occurs when you complain about a discriminatory practice employed at the jobsite. For example, you might complain about sexual or racial harassment occurring to you or to another employee. Angered by your complaint, your boss retaliates by firing you.
Federal and state antidiscrimination laws also prohibit retaliation. You should file a charge with an administrative agency just as you would to complain about discrimination.
Retaliation also occurs when an employee complains about workplace safety issues to a government agency, such as the New Mexico Occupational Health & Safety Bureau. Your employer might terminate you as a result, which is illegal.
The state’s workers’ compensation system exists to help people who are injured on the job. If you suffer an injury while doing your work duties, you can qualify for medical bills and disability benefits that will replace a portion of your wages. Workers’ compensation benefits are “no fault,” meaning that it does not matter who is to blame for purposes of qualifying.
Some employers try to keep their employees from filing for benefits because they will increase their workers’ compensation premiums. As a result, they might retaliate and fire someone who claims to have been injured. This is illegal, and you can sue for wrongful termination.
Wage and Hour Violations
New Mexico employees have certain rights to a minimum wage and overtime pay. If you are not being paid properly, you can complain to the federal Department of Labor or to the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, Labor Relations Division. It is illegal for your employer to fire you for making a wage and hour claim.
Time Off from Work
Both state and federal laws give New Mexico employees the right to take time off from work. Your employer cannot terminate you if you choose to exercise this right. These rights include:
- Serve on a jury. State law grants you the right to unpaid leave for jury duty.
- Voting. State law gives most employees two hours to go vote.
- Medical leave. The federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave off each year for a serious medical condition or to care for family members with a serious health condition. Extra time is available to care for a family member injured in the military. The FMLA only applies to employers that have 50 or more employees.
- Domestic violence. State law gives workers up to 14 days of unpaid leave in a year to handle matters related to domestic violence, such as talking to law enforcement or getting a protective order.
- Military leave. Federal law gives military members a right to reinstatement for up to five years of service in the military. State law gives members of the National Guard, U.S. Armed Forces, and organized reserves unpaid leave for military service. After reinstatement, they cannot be terminated without cause for a year.
Any violation of these laws is serious. And if your employer terminates you for exercising your rights, then you probably have a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Each wrongful termination case is different, and your obligations differ depending on why you were fired. As mentioned above, if your boss discriminated against you based on a protected characteristic, you need to file an administrative charge quickly. However, if your employer fired you in violation of a contract, you can file a lawsuit in court without working with an administrative agency first.
To understand your next steps, meet with an attorney to review your case. An experienced wrongful termination attorney in New Mexico can analyze whether your boss broke any of the many laws that protect employees in this state. If so, you can strategize about what evidence you will need and what you will ask for.
Contact a New Mexico Wrongful Termination Attorney Today
Employees have substantial rights in New Mexico, and employers must honor them. If your boss instead fires you, then you should meet with an experienced wrongful termination attorney to discuss your options.
At Flores, Tawney & Acosta, P.C., we have represented countless workers in litigation against their employers. We understand the evidence you need to bring a successful wrongful termination lawsuit, and we have successfully held employers accountable when they trample your rights. To find out more about how we can help, reach out to us today.
We offer potential clients a free consultation, which you can schedule by calling 575-222-1000 or messaging us online.