When Is Termination of Employment Illegal?
Your job is one of the most important parts of your life. It brings self-esteem and provides you with the resources to take of yourself and your loved ones. Few things can be more devastating than getting fired. When that happens, one of the first questions you need to ask is “was the termination legal?”
Employment at Will
To understand wrongful discharge, you also need to understand the concept of “employment at will.” New Jersey is an employment at will state. That means that either party to an employment relationship may terminate the employment, at any time, provided the termination is not contrary to an employment contract, or to law or public policy.
- Employment agreements—A valid employment contract may be written or oral, express or implied. Obviously, if you have a written employment contract that clearly sets forth your rights, you should be able to determine fairly easily whether or not your rights have been violated. A court may find an implied employment agreement, based on a number of factors, such as the length of your employment, the frequency of promotions, a history of positive performance evaluations and verbal assurances of long-term or continued employment.
- Breach of good faith and fair dealing — Some courts will consider a discharge to be wrongful if certain factors indicate that there were ulterior motives. For example, firing an employee to avoid paying sales commissions or to avoid paying a wage increase may be sufficient. Other examples include misrepresenting the nature of the job, the frequency of pay increases, or reasons for termination.
- Violation of law — An employer cannot terminate an employee under conditions that violate laws against age, gender, race or other forms of discrimination.
- Violation of public policy — A person cannot be terminated for engaging in certain acts encouraged by society, such as reporting illegal actions by the company (whistle-blowing), serving in the armed forces, serving on a jury or taking time off to vote.