The past year-and-a-half has seen working Americans struggle through a tough economy battered by lockdowns, small business closures and the bankruptcies of brick-and-mortar businesses. In such a tenuous work environment, many people have faced reduced hours or job loss. Not all job termination situations are necessarily legitimate, however. Depending on the terms of employment as well as how the employer laid off, fired, or otherwise ended the worker’s employment, in some circumstance job termination is illegal.
Although New Jersey does not have right-to-work laws, it does follow the at-will employment rule, in which the employer may terminate a worker, or the worker may leave employment, at any time and for any lawful reason. Without a contract or collective bargaining agreement for union employees, most employees can be laid off or fired with little notice.
Are the exceptions to the rule?
There are exceptions to the at-will rule, and an employer who has terminated a worker in a manner that triggers one of them may be subject to a wrongful termination suit. Three of these exceptions are:
- Public policy, in which the discharge of an employee violates an established public-policy state practice. Usually, the state constitution or laws address these exceptions, which may range from job termination for refusing to take part in an illegal activity to being fired for filing a worker’s compensation claim.
- Implied contract, which is an unwritten understanding or assurance between the employer and employee of certain terms of employment, benefits, or job security.
- Covenant of good faith and fair dealing, which applies a good faith standard to the way the employer engages with employees. The courts apply a standard of fairness regarding personnel policies, assurances of job security or evidence of a lack of fairness in the workplace.
What federal protections are there?
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, gender, color, national origin, disability, religion or age. Employment termination for any of these reasons as well as if the employee was pregnant, or as a retaliatory action, is prohibited. These protections apply to businesses with 15 or more employees, as well as to government and labor organizations.
If you are preparing to fight back against unlawful job termination, discrimination or retaliatory actions from an employer, it is essential to get more information about federal and state laws that protect your rights.