Generally, at-will employees can be fired for any reason or no reason. There are several statutory exceptions to the at-will employment rule though. For example, at-will employees generally cannot be terminated because of their age, race, sex, religion, disability, for taking a qualified medical leave, for objecting to a polygraph test as a condition of employment, for serving on a jury, for fulfilling military duties if employed by the military, or merely for having a criminal conviction.
Employees may also have legal recourse if they had a contract for employment that was breached by their employer (or are part of a union). Even in the absence of an express contract, there are rare occasions when an employer’s handbook (or other documents) may create contract rights.
B. Public Policy Exceptions
Employers are not permitted to terminate employees if the termination will violate important and established public policies. For example, state and federal employees cannot be terminated for making or refusing to make certain statements of public concern. In many situations, it is also generally illegal to terminate or punish an employee for seeking worker’s compensation or unemployment compensation, for reporting safety violations in the workplace, and for refusing to engage in or commit a crime.
The above information does not represent an inclusive or a complete list of grounds for wrongful termination. Many state laws, such as New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act, provide far broader protections to at-will employees.