The rules governing when an employer can terminate an employee depends on the type of employment. There are two general categories of employment: contract employees and “at-will” employees.
The termination of a contract employee depends on the specific terms of their employment contract. Employment contracts vary a great deal but some examples of good cause to terminate a contract employee are: violating a non-compete agreement, disclosing trade secrets, failure to meet performance standards, violating company policy, etc. In addition, many employment contracts have termination clauses, which often allow either the employer or the employee to end the employment for any reason if an appropriate amount of notice is given.
Most employment is considered “at-will,” which means that the employee has very few protections from being fired. In fact, employers can often terminate at-will employees for any reason or even no reason at all with little or no notice. However, even at-will employees are protected from being fired for anything that violates anti-discrimination laws.
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When Have I Been Wrongfully Terminated from a Job?
An employer can fire an at-will employee for any reason, except for the following:
- Discrimination - The employer cannot terminate employment because the employee is a certain race, nationality, religion, sex, age, or in some states, sexual orientation.
- Retaliation - An employer cannot fire an employee because the employee filed a claim of discrimination or is participating in an investigation for discrimination. Any adverse employment action in retaliation for asserting employee rights, including termination, is forbidden under civil rights law.
- Contractual Employees - Generally, an employee with an employment contract can only be terminated for the reasons stated in the contract. Employment contracts for specified periods of time or permitting terminations only for specific reasons are rare today.
- Illegal Acts - An employer is not permitted to fire an employee because the employee refuses to commit an act that is illegal.
- Family or Medical Leave - Federal law permits most employees to take a leave of absence for specific family or medical problems. An employer is not permitted to fire an employee who takes family or medical leave for a reason outlined in the Family and Medical Leave Act.
- Not Following Your Own Termination Procedure - Often, the employee handbook or company policy outlines a procedure that must be followed before an employee is terminated. If the employer fires an employee without following this procedure, the employee may have a claim for wrongful termination.
How Much Notice Is Required Before Termination?
Unless there is a company policy or employee handbook states otherwise, employers are not typically required to give advanced notice when firing an employee. However, employees are not required to give advance notice unless there is a contract or company policy that states otherwise. If you are an employee and would like to quit your position, be sure to read your contract to make sure that
Should You Hire a Wrongful Termination Attorney?
If you believe you have a claim for wrongful termination, an employment attorney can help you investigate the reasons for the termination, gather evidence, and advocate for you in court.