When is Termination Illegal?

In New York and New Jersey, employees are “at will.” This means that an employer can let an employee go at any time and for almost any reason.

But there are important exceptions to the at-will doctrine, and employers open themselves up to legal liability if they terminate you for an illegal reason. If you suspect an employer has let you go illegally, you need top-flight legal representation.

Legal Reasons to Terminate Someone

There are many reasons why an employer could terminate an employee within the bounds of the law. For example:

  • The employee fails to perform their job properly, e.g., tardiness, poor work ethic, customer complaints.
  • The employee steals from the business.
  • The employer faces declining profits and needs to let staff go. The boss terminates people based on seniority or how much you contribute to the company.

No one is entitled to a job. And if you are an at-will employee, you shouldn’t be too surprised if your employer needs to terminate you for one reason or another. Not every termination is illegal. In fact, most are perfectly legal.

Illegal Termination—Contract Violation

In some well-defined situations, an employer cannot terminate you. One common situation is that you have an employment contract that states you can only be fired “for cause,” and the reason your employer gives you does not satisfy the standard. In this case, your employer is violating the valid agreement you have, so you can often sue.

Illegal Termination—Employment Discrimination

State and federal law prohibit employers from terminating employees because of certain protected characteristics. For example, the following are flatly illegal:

  • Your employer terminates you because of your race, ethnicity, or color.
  • Your employer terminates you because of your sex, pregnancy or genetic information.
  • Your employer terminates you because of your age, disability, or religion.

Realize that state law provides greater protection than federal law, and you can sue under either state or federal law. However, you need to file a discrimination charge with the appropriate administrative agency before you can have your day in court. The charge is necessary to give the agency a chance to investigate, especially if your employer is very large.

Illegal Termination—Retaliation

An employer also cannot terminate you because you report a violation, like employment discrimination or the violation of a law. Often, retaliation of this kind follows hot on the heels of your employer finding out that you blew the whistle on their illegal behavior.

With respect to retaliation, it does not matter whether you were the victim of discrimination/harassment or if someone else was the victim. You are protected either way.

Illegal Termination—Expecting You to Break the Law

An employer cannot require that you break the law and then fire you when you refuse. For example, a factory cannot expect an employee to dump toxic waste into a river if it is illegal. You should be able to sue for wrongful termination if an employer retaliates for your refusal to help them commit a crime.

Speak to a Leading Employment Law Firm

The above are only some examples of illegal termination. If you suspect that your termination was against the law, please reach out to a wrongful termination attorney today. We can help investigate what happened and determine whether you have a valid legal claim.

Contact the Sattiraju & Tharney, LLP today, 609-722-7039, to schedule an initial consultation.