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Wrongful discharge and at-will employment

If you're an at-will employee, is it even possible to be the victim of a wrongful discharge?

Absolutely. At-will employment means that both employer and employee are free to end their working relationship at any time -- for nearly any reason. However, that reason can't fall outside the boundaries of the law.

Here are some of the common examples that give rise to legitimate wrongful discharge complaints:

Your dismissal violates public policy

If you're fired in a way that violates a public policy that's there for the greater good, you may have a good claim for wrongful discharge. For example, that includes things like:

  • Being fired as retaliation after you "blow the whistle" on an employer's illegal activities
  • Being fired for refusing to engage in something illegal at your employer's request
  • Being let go from your job after you're injured and file for worker's compensation benefits
  • Being terminated after you take unpaid family leave, which is guaranteed by law
  • Discharge after being called into to jury duty or back to active duty in the military

These are all actions that you have a legal right (or obligation) to take, so letting an employer punish you for doing so wouldn't be fair.

Your dismissal violates company policy

A company has to follow its own rules and procedures as well.

If a company handbook or indicates that employees won't be terminated without a series of warnings, that could be considered an implied contract.

If you have an actual contract of any sort, you can't be dismissed unless you fail to meet the contract's terms -- and you may be entitled to go through several steps on the way to a discharge according to your contract's terms.

Because it can be difficult to tell if you've been the victim of a wrongful discharge -- and you certainly can't expect your employer to tell you -- it's often wise to get a legal opinion about your situation.

Source: FindLaw, "Was I Wrongfully Discharged From My Job?," accessed Feb. 28, 2018

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