Can an At-Will Employee be Wrongfully Terminated?

Unlawful or wrongful termination laws exist for two main reasons—one is to outline what is legal in terms of terminating employees, and two, to provide fired employees with recourse in the event that their termination is illegal. If you are an at-will employee, like most workers in New Jersey, you probably know that an employer can fire you at any time for any reason or no reason. But this does not mean that you cannot fall victim to an unlawful termination as an at-will employee. The right of New Jersey employers to terminate employees for no reason or any reason comes with some exceptions.

When Can an Employer be Considered Guilty of Wrongfully Terminating an At-will Employee?

Most terminations in New Jersey are lawful because most workers are at-will employees. Often, workers are fired because of the following legally allowed reasons;

  • Customer complaints
  • Poor performance
  • Failing a drug test
  • Cost-cutting
  • Poor attendance
  • Negative attitude
  • Violation of company rules

Even though an employer is not required to tell an at-will employee the reason for them getting fired, employees will usually know the reason for getting fired.

However, at-will employees in New Jersey also get fired for illegal reasons. An employer can be considered guilty of wrongfully terminating an at-will employee if they fire the employee because of their race, gender identification, national origin, disability, religion, age, color, sex, or pregnancy status.

An employer may be guilty of unlawfully terminating an at-will employee if they fire the employee for whistleblowing. A whistleblower is a worker who reports unlawful or unfair business practices or other concerns involving the work environment.

New Jersey considers firing an at-will employee because of taking a family leave or having a medical emergency unlawful.

Additionally, an employer is guilty of unlawfully terminating an at-will employee if they terminate the employee for refusing to violate public policies or for filing for workers’ compensation benefits.

Lastly, although New Jersey is an at-will employment state, an employer may be found guilty of wrongfully terminating an at-will employee if they go against the rules regarding termination that are printed in an employee handbook. For example, suppose an employee handbook states that an employee can only be fired after they receive three strikes. In such a case, if an employer fires an employee after only one strike, the employee has the right to take legal action against the employer.

If you were recently fired, you should not assume that your termination was legal simply because you were an at-will employee at the time. You should reach out to an employment lawyer and let them help you determine whether or not your termination was legal. You might be entitled to compensation if you were unlawfully terminated.

Contact Us for a Free Case Evaluation

Proving you were wrongfully terminated as an at-will employee can be challenging. But, a qualified New Jersey employment lawyer at The Trabosh Law Firm can help you. Contact us today, and we’ll give you a free evaluation of your case before advising you on how to proceed.