Pennsylvania is one of the states which adheres to the “employee at-will" doctrine. This means that employees can be terminated for nearly any reason, but it also means that employees can leave their employment for almost any reason. Most employees are not impressed when they learn that they can leave their jobs for any reason, as most of them want to keep them. However, there have been times in our country’s history when that was not the case, such as in the days of slavery or indentured servitude, or when employees owed so much to a company that they couldn’t leave voluntarily.
Most employees who call me for legal advice are shocked to learn that:
• they can be terminated without doing anything wrong, as they think they can only be fired “for cause";
• they can be terminated because they have had an argument with another employee;
• they can be terminated even if they belong to a union;
• they can be terminated because a new manager wants to hire his own people;
• they can be terminated if they don’t get along with another employee or supervisor;
• they can be terminated even if they didn’t violate a policy;
• they can be terminated even if they didn’t do something prohibited in a handbook,
• and the list of reasons goes on and on.
REMEMBER— AN EMPLOYEE AT WILL CAN GENERALLY BE TERMINATED FOR ANY REASON.
Although the above news is depressing to employees, there are some limited exceptions to the “employee at will" doctrine. A partial list of these exceptions are:
• An employee who has a contract which specifically sets forth a length of employment, salary, etc., if terminated, can argue that the contract gives them certain rights. They may or may not win this argument, as the law requires that the contract terms be clear and specific. Realistically very few employees, unless they are sports or news or entertainment personalities, have this type of contract.
• Public policy violations. There has been some law established through the years by the courts, through various court cases, which have given employees some rights, because the violation of those rights would be against the public interest. The best known example of a public policy violation is if someone were called for jury duty, and lost their job because they were picked to serve on a jury, or even if they reported for selection.
• Discrimination and other laws. There are some laws which give employees rights in the areas of discrimination, wages and hours, labor issues, criminal record checks, etc., that can be quite lengthy and complicated, and won’t be specifically discussed here. Some of these laws provide the right to file a complaint with a government agency. Bear in mind, however, that those agencies are often overburdened and short-handed and their action, if any, often falls far short of a remedy an employee seeks.
DUE TO THE COMPLEXITY OF THIS AREA OF THE LAW, IT IS IMPORTANT TO CONSULT WITH AN EXPERIENCED LAWYER TO DETERMINE WHAT YOU CAN DO IF YOU FEEL YOU ARE IN DANGER OF BEING TERMINATED, OR YOU HAVE BEEN TERMINATED. FREQUENTLY, REMEDIES CAN BE FOUND IF YOU ARE AGGRESSIVE AND FLEXIBLE. I HAVE NEGOTIATED THOUSANDS OF SEVERANCE AGREEMENTS AND RESOLVED THOUSANDS OF THESE TYPES OF CASES. DON’T LOSE YOUR DIGNITY AND YOUR JOB; DON’T BECOME ANXIOUS AND DEPRESSED.
DO CONSULT AN EXPERIENCED LAWYER TO DETERMINE IF YOU CAN TAKE SOME ACTION!