All states except Montana observe an at-will presumption when it comes to employment. In its purest form, this means that employers may fire employees for any reason (with some exceptions) or no reason whatsoever. Similarly, an employee can leave a job at any time for any reason without adverse legal consequences.
Nevertheless, employment contracts can modify the at-will presumption, and there are a few rules that regulate what employers can and cannot do.
Modification by Contract
If you and your employer center into a contract, you can address the situations or employee actions that would justify termination. Under an at-will employment presumption, employers can alter wages or terminate benefits with no notice and no consequences, so an employment contract can help protect an employee’s rights.
Employers who terminate employees or otherwise act outside the terms of their contracts can face breach of contract claims.
The United States’ anti-discrimination laws supersede the nation’s at-will employment presumption. This means that employers may not make hiring decisions or terminate anyone due to their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or veteran status. Many states also protect employees from discrimination due to sexual orientation and other factors.
Federal whistleblower protections also trump at-will employment, so if you report your employer for fraud or illegal activities, you cannot be terminated. On a similar note, employers cannot retaliate against employees for filing internal complaints or claiming legal rights or wages, such as pointing out wage and hour violations or seeking overtime pay.
Common Law Exceptions
Under common law exceptions to the at-will presumption, your employer may not fire you for acting in a way that protects the public interest. For example, your employer cannot fire you for refusing to perform an act that state law prohibits or reporting your employer for violating a law. Your employer cannot fire you for joining the National Guard or performing jury duty, either, and most state statutes protect employees from being terminated during workers’ compensation claims.
Another common law exception to the at-will presumption is the existence of implied contracts and legal promises. If an employer indicates long-term employment or some sort of termination process that includes prior warnings, you may have a claim – even if you don’t have this promise in writing or it only appears in an employee handbook. Employers who ask their employees to act due to a promise of employment may also be held liable for breaking this promise. For instance, consider an employee who moves across the country for a job – the employer cannot fire this employee for no reason without causing financial damage and facing liability.
What To Do If You Suspect Wrongful Termination
If you suspect wrongful termination, discuss your claim with an employment attorney as soon as you can. Our lawyers at Donati Law, PLLC have been representing clients for more than 35 years, and we are more than ready to help you with your case.
We have a family practice, and we treat each client like family. For the legal advice you need and deserve, call us at (901) 209-5500 or contact us online today.