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  • Tom Kelliher

You've Been Fired But You Didn't Do Anything Wrong. What Can You Do?

The short answer: it depends.

There is a general presumption that you are an at-will employee unless you can prove otherwise. The law provides that an at-will employee may be fired for good reason, bad reason, or no reason at all as long as it’s not illegal under state or federal law. Some laws prohibit termination based on discrimination, whistle blowing activities, or retaliation for complaints made about illegal activity or health and safety violations in the work place. Even then, very small companies may not be subject to these laws. Companies with less than 15 employees are not subject to Title VII, which is a prohibition on discrimination based on sex, color, religion, and national origin. Companies with less than 20 employees are not subject to prohibitions on age discrimination (40 years of age+). Consequently, this puts many employees in a position where they do not have legal recourse in the event of termination.

However, you may be able to prove that you are not an employee at-will if you were issued an employment contract. The contract may include duration (for a set time or indefinitely), job title, job description, salary, benefits offered, possible reasons for termination, and an arbitration clause or any combination of these items. Under an employment contract, if an employer terminates your employment prior to the contract’s end date, you may have a cause of action for breach of contract or wrongful termination. Additionally, entering into a contract for employment imposes a duty for the parties to act in good faith, which is known as the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. If an employer treats an employee under contract unfairly, the employer may be found to be in breach of its duty to act in good faith.

If you do not have a contract, there may be language in an employee handbook, job offer, email, or elsewhere that indicates you are not an at-will employee. When in doubt, contact an attorney to help you navigate the situation and to advocate and negotiate on your behalf.

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