Can an At Will Employee be Wrongfully Terminated

Yes, an at-will employee can still be wrongfully terminated in some cases.

At-will employment means that either the employer or the employee can end the employment relationship at any time, for any reason or no reason at all.

Many people wrongly think they can’t be fired unfairly in an at-will employment state.

But even in these states, you can still file a complaint against your employer for wrongful termination, if you are illegally fired.

Read on to understand what is considered wrongful termination in an at-will state and what to do should you get fired illegally.

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An image illustrating an at-will employee being wrongfully terminated
At-Will employment and Wrongful termination.
Source: techicy

What it means to be an At-Will employee?

At-will employment means that you or your employer can end your job at any time for any or no reason.

This is the case in all U.S. states, even though some have different rules that limit the employer’s power to fire you.

For instance, in Montana, you have more job security after a certain period. But in most states, you can be fired for any or no reason.

However, there are situations where it is against the law for employers to fire you based on discrimination.

This occurs when you get fired for something that is protected by federal or state laws, such as your race, gender, age, or religion.

Getting fired for any reason that’s protected by federal law is what is called wrongful termination.

What Protections Does At-Will Employment Provide for Workers?

Although your employer generally has broad discretion to terminate your employment, as an at-will employee, you still retain certain rights, many of which stem from federal laws.

Here are some of the rights afforded to at-will employees:

  • Federal laws shield you from sexual harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation.
  • Your employer cannot dismiss you for refusing to engage in illegal activities (whistleblowing).
  • If you belong to a protected class, you cannot be fired for discriminatory reasons.
  • You remain eligible to apply for workers’ compensation, disability benefits, and unemployment benefits.

Should you suspect that your employer has violated any of these rights, it’s essential to promptly seek advice from an employment attorney.

They can assess your situation and advise you on whether pursuing a claim is advisable.

What Is Considered Wrongful Termination?

Wrongful termination occurs when an employer fires an employee for a reason that is legally protected.

For instance, if an employer dismisses a worker because of their religion, such as being Muslim and wearing a headscarf, it violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on religion.

Other instances of wrongful termination include:

  • An employer firing an employee for reporting unsafe working conditions.
  • Terminating an employee due to their race, religion, national origin, age, genetic information, color, or sex (including sexual orientation or gender identity).
  • An employee reporting safety violations to OSHA and subsequently being fired by the employer.
  • A pregnant employee being fired because they cannot lift 50 pounds.

In these cases, whether the employee is in an at-will employment state is irrelevant.

The at-will employment doctrine does not apply when the reason for termination is a legally protected factor, such as pregnancy or race.

What to Do If You Were Wrongfully Terminated?

As an employee, If you were wrongfully terminated, you should file a complaint with the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).

Along with your complaint, you’ll need to prove that your termination was illegal.

It’s wise to retain copies of all correspondence, such as emails, chats, videos, and any other communications you had with coworkers, supervisors, or your employer.

Additionally, consult with a lawyer who specializes in wrongful termination is recommended.

A legal expert can assist to review your documentation, and ensure that you have sufficient evidence.

Furthermore, they can prepare and guide you on how to file a complaint with the EEOC.

Frequently Asked Questions on At-will employment and Wrongful Termination

Here are some commonly asked questions about At-Will Employment and Wrongful Termination.

What is at-will employment?

At-will employment means that either the employer or a worker can terminate the employment relationship at any time and for any reason, as long as it’s not illegal.

Is every state in the U.S. an at-will employment state?

Yes, with the exception of Montana, all states operate under at-will employment laws.

Can an employer fire me without giving any reason in an at-will employment state?

Yes, in most cases, an employer can terminate your employment without providing a specific reason in at-will employment states.

What is wrongful termination?

Wrongful termination occurs when an employer dismisses a worker for an illegal reason. .

These could include those that go against public policy, such as discrimination, retaliation, or in violation of employment contracts.

Can I be wrongfully terminated as an at-will employee?

Yes, even in at-will employment states, an employee can still be wrongfully terminated.

This occurs if the reason for your firing violates laws protecting employees from discrimination or retaliation.

What should an employee do if they are wrongfully terminated?

If you suspect you were wrongfully terminated, you should gather evidence supporting your claim and consider contacting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to file a complaint.

It’s also advisable to consult with an employment attorney .

What kind of evidence do I need to prove wrongful termination?

Evidence may include emails, performance reviews, witness statements, and any documentation related to the circumstances of your termination.

Nonetheless, an attorney can help you determine what evidence is necessary for your case.

How long do I have to file a claim for wrongful termination?

The time limit for filing a claim for wrongful termination varies depending on the specific circumstances of your case and the laws in your state.

It’s therefore important to act promptly and seek legal advice as soon as possible.

Conclusion

At-will employment does not mean that employers can wrongfully terminate employees.

There are still legal protections that prevent wrongful termination based on discrimination, retaliation, breach of contract, or whistleblowing.

If you believe that you have been wrongfully terminated, you may have a valid claim against your employer.

Additionally, consult with an employment lawyer as soon as possible to review your case and explore your options.

Remember, as an employee with rights, you deserve fair and just treatment as the law requires.

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