Understanding The Legal Landscape When You've Been Fired From Your Job

Law Articles

Losing your job is a very difficult experience. Along with the prospects of uncertainty and financial hardship that a loss of employment brings, there's often feelings of anger and betrayal that rise up in the victim. As a result, people who have been fired from their job are often drawn to the prospect of legal action against their former employer.

Unfortunately for these folks, at-will employment is the overriding law of the land. Essentially, if your job doesn't require a written contract, you can have your employment terminated for almost any reason at all. However, there are exceptions to this rule that everyone needs to understand.

Illegal Reasons

At-will employment is present in every state in the United States except for Montana. That said, at-will employment doesn't mean that you can be fired for an illegal reason. It just means that either the employer or the employee can end their relationship at any time, and that the terms of employment, such as wages and paid time off, can be altered as well.

You cannot, however, be removed from your job for illegal reasons. These illegal reasons include:

  • Discrimination based on race, gender, or any defining characteristic
  • Refusal to commit an illegal act
  • Failure to follow established dismissal procedures

Often, because these types of dismissals can be difficult to prove, legal representation is required. Only an attorney with experience and knowledge of the local laws and statutes can advise you on how you can protect your rights in these situations.

Three Exceptions to At-Will Employment

In spite of having an at-will employment landscape, many states have certain exceptions to the at-will provision. Like many laws, these exceptions vary by state--some states observe all three exceptions while others observe some or none of them. That means that, depending on your state of residence and the circumstances surrounding your employment, you might have legal options available if you've been fired--even if the reasons for that termination aren't obviously illegal.

The first of these exceptions is the Public Policy exception. Observed in 43 of the 50 states in the U.S., this exception states that an employee's termination is not protected by the at-will provision if the firing is against an explicit, well-established public policy of the state. These policies can include:

  • Filing injury and worker's compensation claims
  • Cooperating with police or government agency investigations
  • Telling the truth to the greater public
  • Agreeing to testify in a court of law

Another exception to at-will employment is the Implied Contract exception. Essentially, this exception is exactly what it sounds like--you cannot be fired from your employment legally if there is an implied employment contract. Establishing the implication of a contract, though, can be somewhat difficult.

One common way that an employment contract is implied is through the use of an employee handbook. If your handbook states a certain code of conduct that you have not broken, and if it states that certain steps must be followed prior to termination, your employment relationship begins to look a lot like a contract position. In those cases, it is possible to assert that you had a reasonable expectation that your employment would continue.

The final exception is the Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing exception. In many ways, this is the most difficult legal puzzle of the three major exceptions. It states that employment relationships and terminations must be conducted in good faith--and not driven by ill intent.

This legislation acknowledges that employees require employment for their lives to continue in a positive and self-sustaining fashion. As a result, terminations driven by malice can cause undue injury to a person--placing a great deal of power in the hands of employers. They must, then, conduct themselves in good faith in every employment relationship, in spite of the at-will provision.

Whether or not these exceptions apply to your specific case in your specific location is knowledge that only an attorney can provide. However, if you feel that your firing falls into any of these categories, you should seek the advice of an expert immediately. Contact a firm like Law Office of Faye Riva Cohen, P.C. for more information.


15 January 2016

Car Accident Clues

It can be hard to know what to do to protect yourself legally in the immediate aftermath of a car accident. You’re liable to be disoriented or in shock, you may be injured, and you’re surely worried about your passenger or the other driver. At least, that’s how I felt. The thing is, the things you say and do in the immediate aftermath of an accident may affect a legal case later. Depending on who’s at fault and what the laws are in your state, you may want to sue the other driver for damages, or you may find yourself being sued. My blog is designed to give you tips for a car accident lawsuit, no matter which side you find yourself on.