When is Terminating an Employee Illegal?

If you are an at-will employee, your employer can fire you at any time, for any reason. That is, unless the “reason” you are fired is illegal. The law prohibits employers from firing employees based on certain justifications or reasons.

Illegal Reasons for Firing an Employee:

Discrimination - Employers cannot legally fire an employee based on that employee’s race, gender, disability, national origin, religion, or age,  for example. Federal law also prohibits most employers from firing an employee for being pregnant, giving birth to a baby or for having a medical condition related to either situation.

Retaliation – Employers cannot legally fire an employee as a punishment for engaging in legally protected activities. Retaliation can come in different forms (e.g., demotion, discipline, pay decrease), but in many cases, the retaliation comes in the form of termination.

Alien Status – As long as an employee is legally eligible to work in the U.S., employers may not legally use the employee’s alien status as a reason for termination (see the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act or IRCA).

OSHA Violation Complaints – OSHA, or the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act, prohibits employers from firing employees for complaining about unsafe work conditions in violation of state or federal health standards.

Public Policy Violations –In certain states, employers may not legally terminate an employee if doing so violates public policy principles, or what most people would consider morally or ethically wrong. The definition of public policy principles leaves this aspect of wrongful termination open to interpretation. For a general idea of what public policy violation may look like in Georgia, consider the following examples. An employee cannot legally be fired for refusing to engage in criminal activity. An employee cannot be fired for obeying the law, such as responding to a subpoena for jury duty.

If you are afraid that you are the victim of wrongful termination, or if you need to talk to an experienced Atlanta employment law attorney about discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, please get in touch with Barrett & Farahany today.
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