Almost every week I get a telephone call from someone in a state of shock who has been terminated from their job and they want to know if their firing was lawful. In most instances it probably was legal, because of the doctrine of “employment at will.” But there are important exceptions.
“Employment at will” means that a person can be fired for any reason, no reason or even a mistaken reason. The justification for this principle is that the employee can quit for any reason or no reason. Neither party, employer or employee, is forced to stay in an employment relationship with the other. In real life, however, this supposed reciprocity is far more harmful to employees than it is to employers.
This means that your termination does not have to be fair or justified. It does not have to follow the disciplinary process of the employee handbook. You do not have to be given advance notice.
The two major exceptions to this harsh rule are:
1) if you are in a union that has a contract protecting you or;
2) your termination was discriminatory, i.e., based on your membership in a “protected class” such as race, gender, ethnicity, age, handicap or sexual orientation.
I can help you determine whether your termination was unlawful and what your next steps should be. No matter what the circumstances were, you should always apply for unemployment benefits.