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Can an at Will Employee be Fired for Any Reason

On Behalf of | Mar 29, 2019 | Employment Law

In New Hampshire, the vast majority of employees are employed “at-will.” “At-will” simply means that an employee does not have a contract with their employer for a specified term, so he or she could be terminated at any point should the employer no longer wish to utilize their services. The employee also has the right to resign from employment at any time, with or without notice. Neither party is legally bound to keep the relationship going. 

It is a common misconception that an at-will employee can be terminated for “any” reason. Well, it is not that simple. Although an employee can be fired at any time without cause, an employee cannot be fired for a reason deemed unlawful under state or federal law. Here is a non-exhaustive list of reasons that cannot be used to legally justify the termination of an at-will employee:

  1. WHISTLEBLOWER (RSA 275-E): The employee reported an activity, or refused to partake in an activity, that the employee reasonably believed was a violation of any state or federal law. An employee is protected from termination for such activity even if a violation of law did not actually occur, so long as the employee’s belief was reasonable.
  2. WRONGFUL TERMINATION: The employee partook in activity that public policy would support or refused to partake in activity that public policy would condemn. If this sounds rather gray, that is because it is! A jury will normally be tasked with determining whether or not a public policy supporting an employee’s action exists. If you feel that you were terminated because you “did the right thing,” call us and we will evaluate!
  3. DISCRIMINATION: Discrimination comes in many different varieties including on the basis of race, sex, gender, disability, sexual orientation, pregnancy and age. It is prohibited under New Hampshire law (RSA 354-A), as well as under a variety of federal laws including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Discrimination is not limited to outwardly outrageous conduct such as the use of slurs or derogatory language. Rather, discrimination can present itself in a more concealed manner. Consider the following examples of discrimination cases that our firm regularly handles:
    1. Sexual harassment in the form of offensive and unwelcome conduct or advances is actionable sex discrimination.
    2. An employer’s failure to reasonably accommodate a disability by allowing time for medical appointments, mobility assistance, or a reasonably-modified working environment amounts to disability discrimination.
    3. The termination of a pregnant woman rather than providing maternity leave is sex discrimination.
    4. The unequal discipline of an employee of a minority race is race discrimination.
  4. RETALIATION FOR PROTECTED CONDUCT: An employee cannot be terminated in retaliation for engaging in conduct that is protected by state or federal law. For example, an employee cannot be terminated for requesting time off of work under the Family Medical Leave Act, for requesting a reasonable accommodation for disability, for reporting sexual harassment, for reporting discrimination, or for asking questions about wages or demanding the payment of wages owed. This is not an exhaustive list.

As you can see, an “at-will” employee cannot legally be terminated for “any” reason. To the contrary, there are number of ways in which the termination of an “at-will” employee could be unlawful and the basis for legal action. If you believe you have been unlawfully terminated, or if you are unsure and just want an expert to review the facts of your case, contact the employment law experts at Backus, Meyer & Branch, LLP. Our trial attorneys have extensive experience litigating cases in both state and federal court, in additional to representing clients in front of a number of government agencies. We will review your case with you in detail and, if we believe it to be actionable, we will zealously pursue your goals while seeking to hold the wrongdoers accountable for their unlawful actions.

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