Many workers who engage in “at-will” employment relationships misunderstand the effect being an at-will employee has on their ability to bring a wrongful termination claim. Yet even at-will employees can be wrongfully terminated under certain circumstances.
Any worker who has not signed an employment contract with their employer is an at-will employee. In every state except Montana, the law presumes the employment relationship is at-will.
Many employers indicate the existence of an at-will employment relationship directly on the job application, or in the employee handbook which employees must acknowledge by signing.
At-will employees may be fired at any time for any reason by their employer. An employee also may end at-will employment at any time themselves. The employer does not need to provide a justification or “good cause” to fire an at-will employee.
It is within an employer’s discretion to fire their at-will employee whenever they wish. An employer does not need to provide notice before firing an at-will employee.
Although an employer can fire an at-will employee without notice and without justification, if the employee is terminated due to discrimination, or in retaliation for reporting discrimination, their firing would be illegal.
Illegal discrimination could result from being fired on the basis of one’s:
At-will employees also may not be fired for engaging in certain protected activities, including being a member of a labor union or whistleblowing. Whistleblowing activities include reporting unsafe working conditions or illegal activities.
If the firing of an at-will employee violates a state’s public policy, such firing may be illegal. Common examples of wrongful termination of an at-will employee, on the basis it violates public policy, includes instances where an at-will employee is fired after filing for Workers’ Compensation or because they refused to participate in an employer’s illegal activity.
Illegal wrongful termination of an at-will employee also may occur when an employee is fired for exercising a legal right, such as the right to take family or medical leave, the right to vote, the right to serve in the military, or the right to serve on a local, state, or federal jury.
If an at-will employee is fired illegally due to discrimination, or because the employee engaged in a protected activity, they may have grounds to file a wrongful termination lawsuit against their employer.
Illegally fired at-will employees can seek monetary damages, lost wages, and punitive damages against their employers. In many states, employers found guilty of wrongful termination also face significant monetary fines and penalties.
At-will employees who believe they have been wrongfully terminated should consult an experienced Long Branch employment lawyer to discuss the possibility of filing a legal action against their former employer.
Fired workers should retain important documents for this purpose, including copies of company emails, the employee’s personnel file, employee handbooks, orientation materials, training guides, and employee evaluations.
If you or a loved one is an at-will employee who has been wrongfully terminated, compensation may be available. At Fox & Melofchik, L.L.C. our dedicated Long Branch employment lawyers represent fired workers throughout New Jersey. To schedule a free initial consultation call us at 732-493-9400 or contact us online.
With our offices in Eatontown, New Jersey, we serve clients in Monmouth County, Ocean County, Middlesex County, Mercer County, Asbury Park, Neptune, Long Branch, Keansburg, Ocean Township, Eatontown, Red Bank, Middletown, Colts Neck, Deal, Freehold, Holmdel, Jackson, Little Silver, Marlboro, and Rumson, New Jersey.