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When firing an at-will worker is an illegal act

On Behalf of | Jun 22, 2021 | Employment Law, Whistleblower Retaliation, Wrongful Termination

Most jobs in New Jersey and other parts of the country are considered to be at will. This means that both employers and employees can terminate the working relationship at any time and for virtually any reason either with or without notice. Employees who sign contracts may have more protection against being fired than those who do not, but there are situations where firing even an at-will worker is considered an illegal act that can give rise to wrongful termination lawsuits.

Discrimination and retaliation

All workers in the United States whether they are in the country legally or not are protected against workplace discrimination based on their race, national origin, religion or gender by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination extends workplace protections to cover discrimination based on factors including sexual orientation and gender identity. There are also laws prohibiting discrimination based on age and physical or mental disability. Actions taken by workers to assert these rights or resist harassment are known as protected activities because workers should be able to engage in them without fear. When workers are fired because they are members of a protected class or retaliated against for participating in protected activities, they can pursue civil remedies by filing wrongful termination claims.

Public policy and whistleblowing

Terminating a worker can also be illegal when it violates public policy. Examples include firing a worker for exercising their right to vote or letting them go because they refused to falsify financial documents or lie to government investigators. It is also in the public interest for wrongdoing to be exposed and those responsible to be punished, which is why retaliating against whistleblowers violates employment law.

Settling wrongful termination claims

If you were fired and you believe that your employer broke the law, an attorney with experience in this area could seek to resolve the matter amicably if your goal is to get your job back. If your case goes to court, an attorney could seek damages to compensate you for your lost pay and benefits and your emotional distress.