Wrongful Termination in Pennsylvania
In the state of Pennsylvania, wrongful termination is based mostly on “at-will” employment laws. At-will employment means that either 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. The majority of employment arrangements in Pennsylvania are considered to be at-will. Therefore, proving wrongful termination in Pennsylvania can sometimes be difficult.
Of course, there are many instances where the employment is based on a contract between the employer and the worker. If 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 assume that the employment is at-will.
Like many other states, Pennsylvania wrongful termination or wrongful discharge may be based on a public violation policy. 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. This is known as the “public policy exception”. Some examples include:
- Firing an employee because they refuse to commit a crime
- Firing an employee because they obeyed the law
- Firing an employee if an existing law forbids the firing (for example, firing a worker based on discrimination, harassment, or violations of disability regulations)
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 an example of 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 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.
A successful wrongful termination claim can result in several remedies for the employer, including reinstatement to their job as well as back pay. A qualified Pennsylvania lawyer can provided you more information if there is a legal basis for a claim.
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Last Modified: 09-06-2012 08:51 AM PDT