Can your boss fire you for no apparent reason or seemingly unfair reason? If you are fired for no reason can you file a lawsuit for monetary damages or to get your job back? Every attorney has been face with this question at some point. Virtually every state in the union follow some form of what we call the employment at will doctrine. Employment at Will doctrine basically provides that an employer may fire his employees for any reasons, no reasons and even unfair reasons, as long as they are not illegal reasons.
Every state protect employees from termination or force resignation for illegal reasons. It is universally held by most states that such illegal reasons include: retaliation for you blowing the whistle on illegal or improper conduct; retaliation for you applying for workers’ compensation for a work-related injury; retaliation for your union activity or participating in union investigations; and harassment based on or discrimination against your “race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, marital status, sex, age, or sexual orientation.
There are other exceptions to the Employment At Will which might provide additional employment protection to employees. The most recognized is a contractual relationship between the employer and the employee. This exist when there is an employment contract. The contract should spell out the employer’s right to terminate the employee. Some contracts clearly states that the is an employment at will relationship. While others may provide that an employee can be terminated “for cause.” If the Contract provides for termination only for cause, then the employee can only be terminated for a good reason.
Employee Handbook/Policies can be an exception to the Employment At Will Doctrine. Many courts have held that Employee Handbook/Policies are to be treated as contracts between the employee and your employer. The section that deals with “Termination” would provide for what reason an employee may be fired for. POINT TO NOTE: After courts began to hold that Employee Handbook/Policies are to be treated as contracts, many employers inserted disclaimers into their Handbooks. These disclaimers basically states that the Handbook/Policies is NOT a contract between the employer and the employee.
Also, many unions enter into a collective bargaining agreement with the employer. The Union Agreement lays out the circumstances under which the employer can fire an employee. That agreement may be binding on your boss.
Depending on the state there are a few other statutory and common law exceptions to Employment At Will. These exceptions, also, grant employees more ways to justifiably claim wrongful termination, by reducing the ways employers may legally discharge employees under the Doctrine of Employment At Will.