Tip: Don’t Discharge an At-Will Employee for a Bad Reason

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Although many employees are hired “at-will”, there are limits on reasons for discharging them

I often counsel employers and employees on employment and H.R. issues, including hiring and firing of “at-will” employees.  At-will means that an employee is not guaranteed employment for a fixed period of time, and an employer can terminate that employment at any time, with or without cause, and similarly, an employee can leave her employment at any time, with or without cause.

One key legal issue for employers to realize is that an at-will employee cannot be discharged for a bad reason.  

Here are some bad reasons that many states and in some cases Federal law recognize in protecting at-will employees against discharge:

  • Joining a union
  • Taking time to serve on a jury or for military leave
  • Refusing to commit an unlawful act such as perjury
  • Alleging that the company has violated the law
  • Filing a workers’ compensation claim
  • Filing a whistleblowing complaint

Before an at-will employee is discharged, the employment supervisor at the Company should review the file just to make sure that due care is used and that there isn’t a ‘bad reason’ for discharging the at-will employee.  It is a drain on company resources to have to defend wrongful termination cases.

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