At-will employment means that an employee can be fired for no reason at the whim of the employer. But, there are certain circumstances in which an employee cannot be terminated. These include for discriminatory reasons (such as being fired for race, gender or national origin), for refusing to commit an illegal act, for filing a workers’ compensation complaint, for discussing working conditions or wages, and for retaliation if the employee acts as a whistleblower or files a complaint about working conditions.
In other words, just because an employee is fired in an at-will state does not make that the end of the story.
One lawsuit was filed in New York alleging a woman was fired from her job for complaining about sexual harassment. The plaintiff, a former secondary at a college, alleges she was sexually harassed by a professor at the college, while she worked for the dean. According to New Rochelle Talk of the Sound (7/16/13), the plaintiff told a supervisor about the harassment but no action was taken. She further alleges that during a work performance review she complained that no action was taken and was put on paid administrative leave.
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Many employees think that because they are employed in an at-will state, they are prevented from ever filing a lawsuit if they are fired from their job. There are circumstances in which they cannot file a lawsuit. For example, in an at-will state an employer can fire a person for no reason, with no warning and with no notice. But if the employee is fired for one of the prohibited reasons, a wrongful termination lawsuit can be filed to protect the employee’s rights, reinstate the employee to the position and/or recover lost wages. Furthermore, if the termination is in violation of an employee contract, explicit or implied, the employee can file a lawsuit.