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Wrongful termination in an at-will world

On Behalf of | May 22, 2017 | Blog |

Your small business is important to you. You likely spent years preparing, learning and saving to create a company where you could be the boss. If everything went according to your plan, you may have hired a few employees and started to make a profit before the first glitch occurred. You needed to fire someone.

Certainly, there was a reason you let the employee go, such as poor job performance, a drop in profits or simply a clash of personalities. Nevertheless, firing someone is never a pleasant experience, and now you may be dealing with unexpected consequences.

The rights of your employee

New Jersey, like most states, allows at-will employment, which means you do not have to give a reason for firing your employee, and your employee does not have to give a reason (or notice) before quitting. This flexibility is welcome in many situations, but your worker may have legal recourse in certain circumstances, for example:

  • The termination violated federal discrimination laws for such protected classes as race, gender, age, religion, disability or others.
  • The termination was retaliation after the employee blew the whistle on some illegal or unethical practice in your company.
  • Your employee agreed to a contract (written or verbal) that prohibited you from firing workers at will.
  • Your company guidelines forbid you from terminating an employee without cause.
  • You fired the employee to avoid paying for health care, commissions or other promised benefits.

In most cases, your employee will have to prove that the termination was unjust, and this may be difficult. Nevertheless, you will want make sure your rights are protected.

You have rights, too

While the law allows you to fire an employee for no particular reason, this may not prevent a terminated employee from assuming you had an unjust reason for the firing. This is why many companies create employment contracts, assemble employee handbooks, and establish systems of warnings and disciplinary actions required before terminating someone’s employment. You may be considering any of these options to prevent wrongful termination lawsuits.

However, if you are already facing a wrongful termination claim, you will certainly want to employ every advantage to protect the business you have built with your personal sacrifices. Having legal advice and support will benefit your situation. An experienced attorney can assist you in building a strong defense against the accusations of a former employee.