Employers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania can fire at-will employees for nearly any reason and at any time. Similarly, at-will employees can resign from their jobs for any reason and at any time. While most terminations are legal, there are some situations in which a person’s firing will amount to wrongful termination. Employers cannot fire employees for unlawful reasons, in violation of public policy, or in violation of an employment contract. Here is what you need to know about wrongful termination for employees in Pennsylvania and New Jersey from the employment lawyers at Swartz Swidler.
Termination in Violation of State, Local, or Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, multiple other federal anti-discrimination laws, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act all prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of an employee’s protected characteristics. Some of these protected characteristics include the following:
- Gender identity
- Sexual orientation
- Genetic information
- Citizenship status
- National origin
State and local laws might also protect additional categories. The prohibition against discrimination extends to all aspects of the employment relationship from hiring to layoffs or firing. When an employer decides to fire an employee based on a discriminatory reason, the employee’s termination is unlawful.
Termination in Violation of Public Policy
There are certain situations in which an employer’s termination of an employee will violate public policy. For example, an employer cannot fire an employee for reporting for jury duty, reporting for military service, taking time off from work to vote, and other similar situations. Terminations in violation of public policy also include being fired for engaging in a constitutionally protected right, including whistleblowing, participating in an investigation into the employer’s conduct, or taking leave under the FMLA or similar state laws.
Termination in Breach of an Express or Implied Contract
The contract laws in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania also prohibit firing employees in breach of a written or implied contract between the employer and employee. While most employees do not enter into express, written employment contracts, some do. If an employee has a written employment contract that provides the conditions under which the contracted employment will end, the employer and employee are both bound by its provisions. Similarly, if the employer states that the employee will continue to be employed for a set duration, the employer cannot terminate the employee earlier or will be in breach of the contract.
Implied contracts can also be created between the employer and employee. For example, if your employer outlined specific disciplinary measures before employees will be fired in the company’s policies, the employer must follow those provisions for all employees. Oral promises made by supervisors to employees about the length of their promised employment might also be considered to be implied contracts.
In some cases, an employee who resigns will be considered to have been unlawfully terminated. This might happen in situations involving illegal workplace harassment in which the conditions of the workplace environment become so hostile and untenable that the employee feels that he or she has no other choice but to resign.
Employers cannot retaliate against employees for engaging in protected activity. Some examples of the types of protected activities for which employers cannot retaliate by firing employees include the following:
- Filing an internal harassment or discrimination complaint within the company
- Filing a discrimination or harassment charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, or the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission
- Taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act or similar state laws
- Participating in an investigation by the EEOC, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and others
- Retaliating against whistleblowers
Termination in Breach of the Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing
Some people might be considered to have been terminated in breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing when their employers have intentionally misled them about receiving promotions or raises. Breaches of the covenant also include situations in which employees are transferred or fired to keep them from collecting commissions they have earned. Employers can also be found to be in breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing when they engage in fraud or defame employees.
Potential Remedies for Wrongful Termination
The potential remedies for a successful wrongful termination claim include the following:
- Lost wages/back pay
- Front pay
- Emotional distress
- Pain and suffering
- Injunctive relief
- Attorney’s fees
- Court costs
- Other out-of-pocket expenses
An employee might also be eligible for punitive damages in egregious cases. However, punitive damages are rarely awarded.
Why It Is Important to Retain an Employment Lawyer
Since both Pennsylvania and New Jersey are at-will employment states, it can be harder to prove that you have been wrongfully terminated. The state and federal wrongful termination laws are also complex. An experienced employment attorney regularly navigates numerous employment laws and stays current with changes as they occur.
When you retain an attorney, he or she might also understand the types of evidence you will need to gather to support each element of a wrongful termination claim and help by investigating your case to identify and preserve key pieces of evidence. Lawyers sometimes are able to negotiate full and fair settlement agreements with employers that protect their clients’ rights and help them to recover compensation for their losses. Finally, many employers aggressively defend against wrongful termination claims. A lawyer who regularly practices in employment law might identify potential defenses and work to effectively counter them.
Get Help From An Experienced Employment Lawyer
If you believe you were fired from your job in New Jersey or Pennsylvania illegally, you should speak with the attorneys at Swartz Swidler. We can review your case and provide you with an honest assessment of its legal merits. Call us today for a free case evaluation at (856) 685-7420.