Living under at-will employment makes it seem impossible to sue your employer. When your job only exists due to the goodwill of bosses or shareholders, you do not seem to have many rights.
However, some legal exceptions and precedents could allow you to take action. If your situation fits one of the following sections, contact us to schedule a free consultation with a local attorney.
What Is At-Will Employment?
First, we need to define at-will employment to understand why exceptions to it may apply.
The general rule to this legal doctrine is an employer can terminate your job without giving a reason or warning. Regardless, there are situations where you have the opportunity to challenge their decision in an at-will state.
You Are a Whistleblower
A whistleblower is a person who reports an organization for breaking the law. These cases can include incidents like dumping toxic chemicals or the gross mismanagement of funds. Regardless of the activity you witnessed, you should not face retaliation for contacting authorities.
The U.S. Office of Inspector General provides additional details about how federal law may assist you. For example, your disclosure of illegal activity has protections when one or more of the following apply:
- You cooperate with federal investigations
- You refused to follow an order from someone that would be a violation of the law
- You agree to testify in court or during a deposition
- You exercise the right to complain, file a grievance, or appeal laws and regulations
A Public Policy Exemption Applies to Your Circumstances
A public policy exemption is one of the most significant exceptions for at-will employees. It can be a compelling case to make as a plaintiff in a lawsuit, but it can also be onerous to prove.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says you cannot lose your job for refusing to break public policy. In some circumstances, you may have this argument and whistleblower status to bolster the validity of your lawsuit.
Notably, the first successful lawsuit to use a public policy exemption dates back to 1959. A California Court of Appeal established this precedent when it ruled on Petermann v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters. In this circumstance, a union member faced pressure to perjure himself in front of the legislature. But this workaround can apply in most situations that break policy, legislation, or workarounds.
Your Employer Discriminated Against You
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has the task of enforcing discrimination in the workplace. If they find a reason to validate your claims, they may issue a letter you can take to court.
If you feel your employer fired you based on one of the following, consider finding a lawyer quickly. You only have 180 days to file a formal complaint with the federal government.
The EEOC lists these as illegal reasons to discriminate against someone regarding employment:
- Gender Identity
- National Origin
- Sexual Orientation
Your Employer Retaliated Against You
The U.S. Department of Labor defines retaliation as adverse actions against you for a protected activity. For instance, you have legal protections when you report about one of these topics:
- Paid family and medical leave fraud
- Record keeping discrepancies
- Breaking child labor laws
- Participating in a lie detector test
- Paying out less than the minimum wage
- Violating the rights of migrant or seasonal workers
Numerous other instances can represent retaliation by an employer. In December 2022, the EEOC settled a case for $67,000 when a worker reported her employer for denying a promotion based on her race.
But it is worth noting that you do not have to accept a settlement in every situation. Your attorney could justify a lawsuit for hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, especially when workplace discrimination occurred.
Your Employer Fired You for Off-Duty Activities
This exception has grown in popularity since more states have legalized marijuana. Despite legislation making it legal, some companies fire employees for off-duty use of cannabis.
In response, legislators have decided to codify protections for medical marijuana users. As a result of these efforts, more than 30 states have protection for those with a medical card. Nevertheless, only the Commonwealth of Massachusetts makes it illegal to fire for off-duty recreational use.
Your Employer Violated a Covenant of Good Faith
Violating a covenant of good faith has proven to be an effective way to sue an at-will employer. Generally, it is a legal principle that works as it sounds.
Your employer doesn’t have the right to take transparently self-serving and nasty actions against employees. The classic example is a company that fires a well-regarded individual days before retirement. This type of malicious act does not have to stand because they have the legal upper hand.
Your Employer Violated an Implied Contract Exemption
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 38 out of 50 states recognize this exception to the at-will doctrine. As you may guess by its wide adoption, it is a potent legal argument when you sue your employer.
An organization violates this principle when they do not deliver on written or verbal promises. Consequently, even something innocuous-seeming, like your employee handbook, can become crucial evidence.
As an illustration, consider a situation where it says you get two weeks off each year for sick leave. But when you request to use this time for a severe illness, they deny the request and fire you for not working a shift. In this circumstance, your employer broke an implied contract and is liable for their actions.
Do You Need an Attorney In an At-Will Employment State?
As you have read, you do not have to feel powerless to sue an employer in an at-will employment state. Even if you did not read about a scenario that matches yours, there are many other avenues to consider. Only a no-obligation meeting with a local employment lawyer can ensure you have explored all your options.
Are you ready to find out how to sue your employer? You can request legal help through our website or call (866) 345-6784 to ask for assistance. We will connect you with an attorney who will be a zealous advocate for your cause.