As a general rule, at-will employment means that the working relationship is being maintained due to the will of both parties. One party is the employer and the other is the employee. If either one of them decides that they would like to end that relationship, they can do so at any time, and it is not illegal. For example, the employer could decide to fire the employee without notice, or the employee could quit whenever they want.
That said, if you’ve been fired, you may feel like your rights were violated. You may think you were discriminated against based on your race and fired because of it. You may think that your employer wanted to fire you and replace you with someone of the opposite gender. If you’re over 40 years old, you may believe that you were fired due to your age.
If you bring this up with your employer, they may point out that you are an at-will employee and so you can be fired at any time. They may act as if these laws protect them. Don’t fall for it. They are not protected if they have actually committed a wrongful termination.
Understanding the protected classes
The key to understanding how this works is to know that there are protected classes for U.S. workers. While employers can fire employees for no reason at all or for legal reasons, they cannot fire them for illegal reasons. Examples include:
- National origin
Now, your employer can fire you for a valid reason, such as poor performance, even if you’re in one of these groups. But they cannot fire you because you’re in the group, even if they make other excuses for it. That is a violation of your rights, as all employees deserve an equal opportunity.
If this has happened to you, you need to know exactly what legal steps you can take to make things right. Wrongful termination can have a drastic impact on your life and your career, and it’s not fair for you to be subjected to that type of treatment.