When is a Job Termination Wrongful?
The rules for whether an employee was improperly fired or terminated from their job vary by state. The majority of states follow the rules of “At Will” Employment, below.
What Is “At Will” Employment?
The majority of states today follow the rule that employment is “at the will” of either the employer or the employee, or “at will.” “At will” means that an employer can fire an employee for any reason the employer sees fit, provided it is not for an improper reason (listed below). It does not make a difference whether the employee actually did anything wrong, or whether the employer misunderstood the facts of the situation. If the employee is “at-will,” any reason, including no reason, is a proper basis for termination.
Wrongful Termination – Exceptions to At-Will Employment Terminations
The following are some exceptions to when firing an at-will employee amounts to wrongful termination:
Wrongful Termination – Discrimination
The employer cannot terminate employment because the employee is a certain race, nationality, religion, sex, or in some states, sexual orientation.
Wrongful Termination – Retaliation
An employer cannot fire an employee because the employee filed a claim of discrimination or is participating in an investigation for discrimination. This “retaliation” is forbidden under civil rights law.
Wrongful Termination – Contractual Employees
Generally, an employee with an employment contract can only be terminated for the reasons stated in the contract. Employment contracts for specified periods of time or permitting terminations only for specific reasons are rare today.