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  • Writer's pictureMichael Brooks

Compensatory Damages in Employment Termination Disputes: What You Need to Know

Wrongful termination cases are really difficult to win. Generally, you must prove that your employer fired you because of some unlawful, hidden motivation on their part. You have to prove what your employer was thinking when they fired you!


If you do win, you are entitled to compensatory damages. That usually means the amount of wages and other economic benefits of employment you lost due to being fired, plus an amount to compensate you for the emotional distress and suffering you incurred.


Let's start with lost wages. That is the amount you would have been paid if you had not been fired minus any income you earned after being fired. There is some confusion in the law as to whether income from subsequent inferior employment is deducted from your lost wages. What is clear is that you are required to go out and try to obtain comparable employment to mitigate your wage loss damages. Towards that end, you should absolutely keep a log of everything you do to try to find comparable employment.


If you do find a comparable or superior job, great! Take it. Your wages from that new job will offset and reduce your lost wages damages from being wrongfully terminated. If the new job pays the same or more than your old job your lost wages damages are probably cut off, but that is ok because you have a new job making the same or more.


If you cannot find a comparable or superior job, you can but are not required to take an inferior job. This is where the law gets confusing. It is fairly clear that if you refuse to take an inferior job, your wage loss damages will continue without reduction. However, it is less clear whether your lost wages will be reduced by the wages you earn from an inferior job.  


Emotional distress and suffering damages are much more difficult to calculate than lost wages damages. No fixed standard exists for deciding the amount of emotional distress and suffering damages that should be awarded. Ultimately, the judge or jury must decide a reasonable amount based on the evidence and common sense. To ensure that the judge or jury has sufficient evidence of your emotional distress and suffering to make a fair determination it is important to document your symptoms in detail repeatedly over time. You may decide to seek therapeutic treatment from a mental health provider. This is advisable as the distress associated with being wrongfully terminated can be severe and long lasting, and you may benefit from proper treatment. Beyond the direct benefits of the therapeutic treatment on your health, the mental health provider, through their testimony and medical records, can help you establish the severity of your distress to help the judge or jury fairly value your emotional distress and suffering damages.   


In short, document your efforts to find new employment and document your emotional distress and suffering. If you win your case, your efforts will help ensure that the judge or jury will be able to provide a fair and complete compensatory damages award.

If you feel that you were wrongfully terminated, don’t hesitate to call our office at 415-545-8608 to schedule your FREE consultation.

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