Whether someone can be fired is a question we get frequently. Employers want to make sure they are legally terminating someone, and employees would like to know if they can be or have been illegally terminated.
Most jobs in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island are “at-will”, meaning an employer can fire an employee at any time and for any reason, as long as that reason is non-discriminatory.
The following list contains four situations in which an employer may NOT fire an employee at-will:
An employer cannot fire a worker because of the person’s age, sex (gender), race, disability, color, religion, national origin, or sexual orientation. If the employee falls within one of these protected classes, then the employer generally has the burden of proving the termination was based on a legitimate non-discriminatory business reason. If the employee does not fall within one of these protected classes, then the employee generally has the burden of proving the termination was based on discriminatory reasons.
2. Violation of Federal or State Law
An employer cannot fire an employee for a reason that would violate the law, for example, for taking time off that is allowed under the Family Medical Leave Act.
Generally, if the employee is a member of a union, then the union’s contract – the collective bargaining agreement – will typically list the reasons why a person may be fired.
An employer may not terminate an employee in retaliation for an employee complaining about discrimination, or for testifying or assisting in a proceeding related to potential discriminatory employment practices.
If you have questions about whether you may legally terminate an employee, or about whether you have been improperly terminated, please contact us at any time.
Joe received his law degree from the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill School of Law and his Accounting degree from the University of Rhode Island. He is admitted to practice law in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, and he is a CPA. He is an Adjunct Professor and lecturer at the University level and has been a frequent speaker on business planning and legal matters.
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