Most of us can quit our jobs at any time, for any reason. Our employers also have the right to fire us at any time for (almost) any reason. That is what it means to be an “at will employee.” By contrast, an employee who has a contract specifying that she will work for a company for specific time period is not “at will.” She can’t quit anytime she wants, without breaching the contract, nor can her employer fire her.
A boss can fire an at-will employee for (almost) any reason or for no reason at all (just as an employee can quit for any reason or for no reason at all). The law does not protect a worker from being fired just because the boss doesn’t like him. The law does not protect against a stupid management decision, like firing a productive or experienced worker who is really contributing.
The law does, however, protect against certain types of firings. So long as you can do the job, your boss can’t fire you because of your:
• sex or gender (and that includes firing you because you are, or might become, pregnant);
• country of origin;
• age (if you’re at least over forty – this doesn’t protect young people against discrimination based on their age);
• status as a veteran;
• in some jurisdictions, because of your sexual orientation, appearance, familial status, and other characteristics; or
• because you tried to enforce your rights under the civil rights laws.
The law may also protect you if you were fired:
• in violation of rights you have under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution;
• because you were called for jury duty;
• in retaliation for exercising your union or “collective action” rights;
• in retaliation for taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act;
• in retaliation for filing a Worker’s Compensation claim;
• because of your service in the military; or
• because you refused to break the law or because you reported a violation of the law to your employer.
If you think you have been wrongfully terminated, you should contact an attorney, who will review with you the specific details surrounding your firing and advise you whether they spell “wrongful termination.”