5 Illegal Reasons to Terminate An Employee

5 Illegal Reasons to Terminate An Employee

At-will employment lets either the employer or employee end their job at any time for almost any reason. However, this doesn't mean all firings are legal. In case you don’t know if your termination was legal, an employment law attorney can help clarify your situation.

Legal Reasons for Termination

In at-will employment, employers can legally fire employees for reasons like poor performance, misconduct, downsizing due to economic issues, contract breaches, policy violations, or failing job requirements.

Illegal Reasons for Termination

While at-will employment allows employers to fire employees without a specific reason, they can’t fire someone for protected or illegal causes like discrimination or retaliation.


Federal laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibit firing employees based on characteristics such as race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, or genetic information.


Whistleblowers reporting illegal acts are protected. Firing someone for whistleblowing can lead to lawsuits. Employees aren’t required to report internally and can’t be legally stopped from reporting misconduct.


Employees can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the FMLA without fear of termination. However, it’s illegal to misuse this leave, like lying about eligibility. Firing for valid leave use is prohibited.

Military Service

Employees who serve in the military have certain protections under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). Employers cannot discriminate against or harass employees based on their service.

Both employers and employees need to understand the legal limitations of at-will employment. It's important to know your rights and seek legal help if you suspect wrongful termination.