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What constitutes wrongful termination? At-will employment, Part 1

Being fired from work is obviously an experience that no one wants to go through. The situation can be made worse if the termination is motivated by unfair reasons. When this happens, employees may wonder if they have any recourse.

Most of the employment relationships in the U.S. are considered at will, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. This represents a scenario in which employers and employees can terminate employment for basically any reason. Naturally, this type of arrangement might seem a bit off-putting.

Thankfully, however, there are some situations in which termination from employment can be considered illegal.

It’s worth noting that someone who is employed on a contract is not considered to be an at-will employee. Any action taken by the employer that is a violation of the terms of the contract could serve as grounds for wrongful termination action. Additionally, individuals who have union employment might fall into this category.

The National Conference of State Legislatures also points to whistleblower protections as an exception to at-will employment. As such, if an employee reports the illegal activities conducted by the employer and is fired for taking a stand, then federal whistleblower protections could be invoked. Employees should not be unjustly punished for doing the right thing.

As an employee, it may be difficult to determine the difference between an illegal and permissible termination, especially when a person is employed on an at-will basis. This is the type of distinction that an attorney could help make.

Beyond these basic exceptions to at-will employment arrangements, discrimination is one of the most prominent grounds for wrongful termination. This type of action is defined by federal and New York law. We will explore this concept in our next post.

Source: National Conference of State Legislatures, “The At-Will Presumption and Exceptions to the Rule,” accessed June 25, 2014

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