The majority of employment relationships in the U.S. are considered to be “at-will,” meaning the employer or the employee is free to end the relationship at any time, with or without advance notice, and for any reason or no reason at all. However, grounds for a wrongful termination are a major exception to at-will employment.
It is illegal for an employee to terminate an employee when it violates an explicit, well-established public policy of the state. In other words, it is illegal to fire for reasons that society recognizes as illegitimate grounds for termination, such as:
- Taking time off work to serve on a jury
- Taking time off work to vote
- Serving in the military
- Notifying authorities about some wrongdoing harmful to the public
- Refusing to engage in illegal activity at the request of an employer
- Filing a workers’ compensation claim after being injured on the job
When an implied contract is formed between an employer and employee, the at-will employment rule is no longer applicable. These commonly occur when employers promise permanent employment or employment for a specific period of time, or when employers set forth specific forms of progressive discipline in an employee manual. Implied contracts can be very difficult to prove given that a written document is often not present.
In some states, a covenant of good faith and fair dealing into every employment relationship is required. This means that employer decisions are subject to a “just cause” standard and that terminations in bad faith are prohibited. Some examples include:
- Firing or transferring employees to prevent them from collecting sales commissions
- Misleading employees about their chances for promotions and wage increases
- Fabricating reasons for firing an employee with the intent of replacing that employee with someone who will work for lower pay
Wrongful termination includes terminations in violation of federal, state, or local anti-discrimination laws. It is illegal for employers to fire an employee on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, pregnancy, or genetic information. It is important to note that there are strict time limits and rules that apply to discrimination claims.
If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated, do not hesitate to contact one of our employment discrimination attorneys today at (212) 553-9215.