In some situations, you have a contractual right to your job. You may have an individual annual contract or be part of a union contract that limits the employer’s right to terminate your employment. In these circumstances, you might sue for breach of contract if you are fired. But in the United States, the vast majority of employment relationships are “at will” employment.
“At Will” Employment
“At will” employment implies that the employer has the legal right to terminate your employment at will, or whenever it wants to, for any legal reason — any LEGAL reason. For more than a generation, federal and state laws have existed prohibiting employers from adverse employment actions such as firing, demotion, failure to hire, etc. based on the employee’s race, gender, national origin or other “immutable characteristic.”
Unfortunately, an employer can fire you for virtually any other conceivable reason. If you simply have a disagreement or feel the boss was unkind to you, you may quit, but you have no legal right to complain or sue for lost wages or wrongful discharge.
Public Policy Exception
Aside from protections for protected classes of people, there is another exception to an employer’s right to fire “at will.” A public policy exception prohibits employers from taking action when the broader public would be harmed. An example of this is an employee refusing to take part in criminal conduct when ordered to do so by the employer. If, in retaliation, the employer fires, transfers or demotes the employee, the employee may have grounds for legal action based on this exception. Public policy also protects employees from being fired for submitted Workers’ Compensation claims or filing Unemployment Compensation claims.
Attorneys at McCarthy Weisberg Cummings, P.C., can explain this complicated area to you. We may be able to help you if your employer has violated or is violating the law, such as practicing discrimination. Contact a lawyer via e-mail or call us in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, at 855-716-2367 for a free consultation about your legal options.