Finding a good job to support yourself and your family is important, so many aren’t especially picky when it comes to agreeing to the conditions of employment beyond working during their agreed on hours and the agreed on rate an receiving any benefits promised. While some jobs have contracts attached to them offering job security, most jobs are considered “at will.”
In this context, “at will” is defined as the employer’s right to terminate for any reason or no reason. Employees who are fired often take this phrase literally and do not question their employer’s right to fire them if they are let go unexpectedly, regardless of the reasons stated or implied.
While technically the phrase “at will” means that employers don’t have to specify a reason for letting someone go, there are several conditions that are considered exceptions.
It is important to look at your employee record with the company to determine if you were fired for an illegal reason. This may give you grounds for a wrongful termination case against their former employer. Some of these include:
- Public policy: Being fired for exercising rights, such as filing a worker’s compensation claim or refusing to participate in illegal practices for the company.
- Implied contract: Being fired after being specifically told that their employment is safe under agreed on circumstances, either verbally or in writing
- Good faith violation: When an employee is fired despite previous indications that their job was secure, such as favorable performance reviews, raises, and promotions.
- Discrimination: Firing based on a reason protected under the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, including race, age, disability, sexual orientation and others. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a good resource for those who believe they are being unfairly treated in the workplace for any of these reasons, whether they have been fired or not. It is also discriminatory to let someone go because they have reported their employer’s or fellow employee’s wrongful behavior to the EEOC or other authorities.
- Harassment: Firing based on the fact that you did not respond the way an employer or fellow employee wanted you too when you were being put into a position where you were not comfortable, sexually or otherwise.
- Retaliation: Firing based on the employees involvement of legal activities such as voting, taking allowed vacation, medical leave, jury duty, military service, and others. Retaliation for “whistle blowing” — informing authorities or media about the company’s illegal, unfair, or unsafe practices and participating in investigations.
While many jobs are considered “at will” this is not always the case. If you did have a contract, it is important to confirm the conditions of the contract and promises of advancement and/or raises and statements that specific reasons are required to terminate. These statements can fuel a case that employment not “at will.”
If you are mystified as to why you were let go, or can point to one or more unjust reasons why you were fired, there is a good chance that an employment lawyer can help with a wrongful termination lawsuit that will hold the employer accountable and deliver a sense of justice, compensation, and/or employment if desired.