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What Does At-Will Employment Mean in Pennsylvania?

November 22nd, 2019
Wrongful termination

An at-will employment doctrine holds that an employee can be dismissed from their job for any reason or for no reason at all. In at-will employment states, it is the prerogative of the employer to simply let the employee go without an explanation; an employee may also quit their job for any reason, without giving any notice. The at-will employment policy serves to protect employers against litigation, but that does not mean that a wrongfully terminated worker has no recourse.

Exceptions in At-Will States

In certain circumstances, the state’s at-will status does not matter; there are at least 30 state and federal laws that prohibit firing an employee for any reason. In addition to laws, there are public policy standards provided by clear articulation in the Constitution or by review of judicial precedent. The following are a few instances in which the state’s at-will employment protections do not apply, giving terminated employees a possible course to pursue a legal remedy:

Breach of contract: If the termination occurred in violation of the terms of an employment contract, the firing may be unlawful.

Discrimination: Pursuant to federal laws against employment termination based on race, sex, age, or any other characteristic of a protected class, an employer may not fire an employee because of these factors. Applicable statutes that offer these protections include the Americans with Disabilities Act, Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.

Actions protected under law: An employee may not be fired for taking advantage of federal protections present in established laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Wrongful termination may occur in cases where the employee is fired for:

  • Refusing to commit a crime on behalf of the employer
  • Exposing illegal operations or safety violations within the company
  • Refusing to lie to investigators to protect the business
  • Declining to submit to a polygraph
  • Missing work to appear for jury duty
  • Filing for unemployment or a Workers’ Compensation claim

Employer Must Prove Just Cause

It is important to note that even if an employee is a member of a protected class or if the employee believes the reason for their termination violates an established legal or public policy, the employer may present a legitimate reason for the firing that is not contrary to any laws or policies. These reasons may be disputed by the employee and their law team, but the possibility exists that the employer may present a compelling argument in court.

Bucks County Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Fight for Wrongfully Terminated Employees

If you feel that you were wrongfully terminated from your job, the Bucks County employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. can help. Contact us online or call 215-569-1999 to set up a free consultation today. Located in Philadelphia, we represent clients throughout Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County.

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