Legal Protections for At-Will Workers

In the United States, most workers are employed on an “at-will” basis. What this means is that the working relationship between this employee and their employer is one of mutual agreement, and should either party to the relationship choose to end it, for any reason, they may do so. From this vantage point, then, an employer has a legal right to terminate an employee for any reason, and is not required to inform the employee of the logic behind their decision.

However, the at-will work relationship is not as strictly defined as that. A number of exceptions to this relationship have been embedded in the legal framework of employment law in the United States. Employees who have lost their jobs as a result of any of these excepted behaviors may, therefore, be eligible to sue their former employers for compensation for the damage done to them as a result of their unlawful termination.

Officially Prohibited Causes for Termination

An employer in the United States has no legal right to terminate an employee for any of the following reasons:

  • Ÿ  Categorically-Prohibited Discrimination: a wide range of different personal characteristics (including race, religion, gender, old age, and disability) are explicitly designated as not being legal grounds for termination in the United States.
  • Ÿ  Violations of Public Policy: an employer terminating one of their employees in a manner which tends to violate public policy may be considered illegal grounds for dismissal. Issues such as termination of an employee for refusing to violate the law or for filing a workers’ compensation claim qualify under this category.
  • Ÿ  Whistle-Blower Retaliation: employers are prohibited from dismissing an employee for filing a whistle-blower complaint about their employer’s actions.
  • Ÿ  Contractual Provisions: employers may not terminate an employee for any causes that are explicitly listed as not being grounds for termination in their employment contract, or in any other way that violates the terms of the contract.

Individuals who have suffered the loss of their job in the United States for any of these reasons may have grounds to pursue legal action against their employer with the assistance of an experienced employment lawyer.




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