At-Will Employment and Wrongful Termination
I personally dislike the phrase “wrongful termination.” It gives employees the impression that if they are fired for the wrong reasons, that they will have a legal action against their employer. Indeed, as an employment attorney, I never seem to speak to anyone who was not fired wrongfully in his or her perspective. Often, they have no case at all.
Ohio and Kentucky are “at-will” employment states. In fact, at-will employment is the default across the United States. Unless you are a member of a union, a classified public employee, or have a written contract requiring “just cause” for termination, you are almost certainly an at-will employee. Generally, an employer can fire, demote, or reassign an at-will employee for any reason. This means that an employer may fire an employee for a dumb reason, the wrong reason, or a petty reason. Generally speaking, “wrongful termination” is a myth in an at-will employment state.
However, the at-will employment relationship is not without its exceptions. An employer cannot fire an at-will employee in violation of an existing employment law. There are different federal and state employment laws that are exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine. These laws include statutes that protect employees against discrimination because of their race, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and age. In addition, certain laws protect against retaliation for reporting certain unlawful behavior, such as wage violations, safety violations, criminal activity, or certain fraudulent behavior.
These employee protections are complicated, and they all require adherence to strict administrative procedures with varying timelines and statutes of limitations. In addition, because employment discrimination typically involves only circumstantial evidence, it is difficult to prove. If an employee believes she is suffering discrimination in the workplace or that she was fired because of her membership in one of these protected classes, she should call an experienced employment attorney. Similarly, employers should seek legal advice before firing employees who are members of these protected classes.
As this Blog develops, I will write about the differences between state and federal employment laws. I will write how employment discrimination is proven. And I will also write about each of the major employment laws individually. Please follow my blog for basic information, but you should always seek the advice of a local professional if you are either an employer or an employee. These laws are much too complex to rely on mere nuts and bolts information online. More importantly, different states have different standards.
Matt Miller-Novak, Esq., Employment Attorney
Barron Peck Bennie & Schlemmer, Co. LPA