I think I was fired unfairly, or illegally. What are my rights?
In Montana it is unlawful for an employer to fire you in certain circumstances, such as:
- You were fired because you refused to violate public policy, or reported a violation of public policy,
- You had finished your probationary period and your employer did not have “good cause” to fire you. “Good cause” means a job related reason such as failure to do your job, disrupting the employer’s business, or some other legitimate business reason.
- Your employer violated its own written personnel policy when it fired you.
You can find the law that sets out the requirements for wrongful discharge at § 39-2-904 MCA and the definition of good cause at § 39-2-903 MCA. The § symbol is a quick way to write the word section. MCA is the Montana Code Annotated, the state laws in Montana.
Do I have to do anything before I file a lawsuit for wrongful discharge from employment?
Yes. If your employer has written procedures that allow you to file a grievance after being fired you must use those procedures. You can find the law on this at § 39-2-911 MCA. If you don’t follow the entire grievance procedure any lawsuit you file could be dismissed. It’s a good idea to check your employee handbook for the grievance procedure you need to follow. The law requires your employer to notify you of the grievance procedure within seven days of the discharge and supply the written policy to you. The timeframe to ask for a grievance may be short. It might be as little as ten days. Make sure you don’t miss the deadline to ask for a grievance.
My employer told me they could fire me at any time and did not have to give me a reason. Can they fire me without a reason?
Yes, if you are still in your probationary period. Your probationary period should be set out in your employment contract. If no probationary period is specified, or if you don’t have an employment contract, your probationary period is six months from the date you were hired. You can find the law about this at § 39-2-904(2) MCA. Once your probationary period ends your employer must have good cause to fire you.
I am a union member. Are there different rules that apply to me?
Yes. It is a good idea to talk to your union representative right away to find out what your rights are. The union contract will control how your employment can be terminated. The Montana Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act does not apply to employees who work under a collective bargaining agreement.
I want to find an attorney to help me file a wrongful discharge case. How do I find an attorney?
If you want to find an attorney to assist you, you can contact the State Bar of Montana’s Lawyer Information and Referral Service. Their phone number is (406) 449-6577. Or you can visit the State Bar of Montana’s website: montanabar.org and click the link for “Need Legal Help” then “Lawyer Referral”.
I think my employer was discriminating against me when he fired me. What can I do?
An employer may not discriminate based on: race, creed, religion, color, or national origin or because of age, physical or mental disability, marital status, or sex -- unless the reasonable demands of the job require a distinction based on age, physical or mental disability, marital status, or sex. You can find the law that bans discrimination in employment at § 49-2-303 MCA. If you think your employer discriminated against you the first step is to file a complaint with the Montana Human Rights Bureau. You can file a complaint by calling the Montana Human Rights Bureau at 406-444-4356 or 1-800-542-0807. You have 180 days after the discrimination takes place to file a complaint with the Montana Human Rights Bureau. You can find out more about discrimination and the Montana Human Rights Bureau at the Montana Department of Labor and Industry website: erd.dli.mt.gov/human-rights.
Where can I find the Montana laws?
Your local library has the books with all the Montana laws. You can also find Montana Code Annotated online. If you don’t have your own computer, you can use one for free at your local public library.