Wrongful Termination in Pennsylvania

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What Is Wrongful Termination in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania follows at-will employment law. This means that absent an employment contract, the relationship between employer and employee are at-will. In such a relationship, the employer or the employee can legally terminate the employment at any time and for any reason, so long as the firing is not illegal. Therefore, proving wrongful termination in Pennsylvania can sometimes be difficult

Even when the employment is based on a contract between the employer and the worker, the employment may still be at-will. Depending on whether the employment contract states the terms for termination, then the employee or the employer may be held liable if they violate the contract terms. If no contract exists between the parties, then Pennsylvania employment authorities will presume that the employment is at-will.

What Are the Exceptions to the At-Will Rule?

There are some exceptions to the at-will rule. For example, if a Pennsylvania employer fires an employee for discriminatory reasons, a breach of employment contract, or in retaliation for exercising their employee rights, a Pennsylvania employee may have a legal claim against the employer. For discriminatory purposes, Pennsylvania employers cannot discriminate based on race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, religion, disability, age, marital status, AIDS/HIV, or sickle cell trait.

Under federal law, employers cannot fire an employee based on a protected characteristic such as race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, religion, age, disability, and citizenship status.  

What are Public Policy Violations?

Like many other states, Pennsylvania wrongful termination or wrongful discharge may be based on a public policy violation. That is, even if the employment is considered to be at-will, an employer may not terminate the employee if the firing violates public policy principles. Some examples include:

For example, assume that a Pennsylvania employer requested that their worker file a false tax report. Suppose that the employee refused to file the false report, because it is a crime, and that the employer then fired them for not filing the report. This would be considered wrongful termination that is based on a public policy violation.

However, the employee would need to prove that the termination violated a public policy that is clearly articulated in the Constitution, in Pennsylvania legislation, or in Pennsylvania judicial decisions. It is not enough for the employee to prove that their employer simply acted unfairly.

Unlike other states, Pennsylvania has extended this public policy exception to include other types of violations, such as when an employee is fired for taking jury duty, for refusing to serve alcohol to an intoxicated customer, or for properly following procedures for handling hazardous materials.

What Are the Remedies for Wrongful Termination?

A successful wrongful termination claim can result in several favorable remedies for the employee, including recovering back pay, reinstating one’s job position, and other types of damages. The remedies for wrongful discharge or wrongful termination will depend on the particular harm that the plaintiff suffered. For example, the employee victim may: be reinstated back to their normal work title, obtain recovery of lost benefits, or obtain back pay for lost wages.

Depending on the severity of the claim, the employer may also be required to pay additional damages such as stress/suffering damages, punitive damages, and legal fees such as attorney fees and court costs.

Do I Have a Wrongful Termination Claim in Pennsylvania?

Wrongful termination claims in Pennsylvania depend on whether all of the facts that led to the termination would create a wrongful termination. If the employer’s motivation in firing the employee was unlawful, then the employee may bring a wrongful termination claim even if the employee is an at-will employee. It can be difficult to see what actions and motivations can give rise to a workers compensation claim. It is often worth consulting with a Pennsylvania employment attorney to determine whether you might have a claim. 

Should I Consult an Attorney?

An experienced Pennsylvania lawyer can help you determine whether there is a legal basis for a claim. He can help you navigate the court system, represent you in court, and help you obtain the damages that you deserve.

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Last Modified: 07-05-2016 03:49 PM PDT

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