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Philadelphia Employment Lawyers

Understanding Pennsylvania “At Will” Employment

In Pennsylvania, all employees are considered to be “at-will” employees unless they have a contract specifying a certain length of time for employment.  This means that an employer in Pennsylvania can dismiss an “at will” employee for any reason, at any time, without prior notice, as long as they do not violate public policy or state and federal statutes.   Though this may not be commonly known, Pennsylvania first initiated the “at will” doctrine in 1891, primarily to afford people the freedom to choose their employment and to leave employment without recourse from their employer.   In contrast, the law also affords an employer the same rights in relation to terminating an “at will” employee.  Any reason for termination of an “at will” employee is justified, if done so legally.

Even with this doctrine in effect in Pennsylvania, “at will” employees do have some protection.  An employer can be found in violation of the law if state and federal statutes and public policy are not followed.  In cases where there are oral, written, or implied contracts, employers claiming protection under the “at will” guidelines will find themselves out of luck if they haven’t clearly defined an employee’s status as “at will”.

Protection for Pennsylvania “At Will” Employees

Any person hired without a contract that specifically states clearly defined terms of employment and termination in Pennsylvania is considered to be “at will”.  As such, termination can occur for any reason the employer feels is justified, regardless of job performance.  So long as no state or federal laws are broken in the termination, “at will” employees have little recourse.

A Pennsylvania “at will” employee is charged with the burden to prove that an employer has violated the law.  A terminated “at will” employee will rely on state statutes like the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, which prohibits discrimination in the workplace, to prove illegal termination by employers.  The Americans with Disabilities Act, Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Family and Medical Leave Act are some of the federal statutes that ensure “at will” employees receive protection from termination based on discrimination of age, disability, sex, race, national origin, or health.  Pennsylvania public policies provide additional protection from illegal termination.

The Pennsylvania Courts have found dismissal of “at will” employees to be illegal when termination was based on any of the following:

  • an employee will not perform an illegal activity requested by the employer;
  • an employee refuses to take a lie detector test;
  •  an employee is fired due to reporting illegal activity by the employer;
  •  an employee is refused employment or terminated because of a past conviction of a crime that is unrelated to the job requirements;
  •  an employee is fired due to a scheduled public duty, such as jury duty;
  • termination is based on an unemployment claim or worker’s compensation claim;
  • an employee reports or threatens to report violations of safety regulations;
  • termination is based on the employee’s non-consent to a random drug test or property search that violates their right to privacy; or
  • an employee testifies to authorities against their colleagues or superiors.

Wrongful Termination of Employees with Contracts

Without a contract, termination of employment is open to the employer’s discretion.  If there is an employment contract, it must clearly state that an employment is “at will” if the employer wants the freedom to terminate employment without cause.  If the contract outlines a specific time period for employment and stipulations for termination, then the employer is legally bound to the agreement, and must have clear justification for dismissing an employee.

A contract does not have to be written.  Binding contracts can be implied by the employer and/or agreed upon orally.  In cases of wrongful termination, the existence of oral and implied contracts is most difficult to prove.   Unless there is documentation clearly defining that an employee is contracted for a specific period of time, Pennsylvania law considers them to be “at will” employees.  Pennsylvania employment attorneys provide valuable assistance during contract negotiations to avoid “at will” termination.   A contract must include explicit terminology that clearly states the period of time for employment, the duties and responsibilities of the employee, and carefully outlined causes and procedures for termination.  Without these stipulations, Pennsylvania Courts have repeatedly upheld the “at will” status of the employee.

In cases of oral and implied contracts, employees will have a very difficult time proving that a contract with a specified period of employment was in place.  There must be substantial proof that an employer agreed upon a term for employment, or implied that employment would continue indefinitely with good performance and production.  Employees have relocated or have made personal sacrifices for employers who have orally agreed or implied that employment would be available for the foreseeable future, yet have found they are unemployed within a short time.   Without significant proof of the implied employment, the employee is considered “at will” and without recourse against the employer.

Philadelphia “At Will” Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates Can Help with Wrongful Termination

Pennsylvania “at will” employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates are experienced in all areas of Pennsylvania employment laws.   We can help you negotiate your employment contract so that you won’t be subjected to the insecurity and ambiguity of “at will” employment. If you feel that you’ve been wrongfully terminated under your employment contract, our New Jersey employment lawyers can pursue your position in court.  Moreover, if you are an “at will” employee illegally or unjustly terminated as a result of your employer’s violation of law or public policy, we will ensure that your rights are protected and your employer is brought to justice.

Serving all of Pennsylvania, including the Southeastern counties of Philadelphia, Montgomery, Bucks, Berks, and Chester, as well as in New Jersey, Sidney L. Gold & Associates is available to assist you with all aspects of “at will” employment. Our Philadelphia “at will” employment lawyers can outline your options and ensure that your rights are protected. Call our offices today at 215-569-1999 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced, knowledgeable Pennsylvania employment lawyers or contact us online

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