Determining whether you have been wrongfully terminated from your employment can be tricky. Just because you feel that your termination was unwarranted or immoral does not mean that it is considered a wrongful termination under federal or state law. Below, we discuss how you can determine whether or not you have been wrongfully terminated in accordance with federal and state law in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Both New Jersey and Pennsylvania are at-will employment states. This means that, unless the employee entered into a contract at the beginning of his or her employment, the employment is presumed to be employed at-will and may be terminated at any time by his or her employer and for any reason, except if the reason for termination is because the employee is a member of a protected class pursuant to federal or state law or the employee engages in protected conduct like reporting discrimination. If you are an at-will employee and there is no evidence that your termination resulted because you are a member of a protected class or you engaged in protected activity, then your termination will not be considered wrongful.
There is one caveat to the general rule that termination of an at-will employee is not considered wrongful. In both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, if an at-will employee can prove that the employer made certain assurance to the employee for continued employment and the employee relied on those assurances to his or her detriment, then the at-will employee can prove that his or her termination was wrongful based off the theory that the employer and employee entered into an implied contract and the employer breached this contract by firing the employee. This type of claim, however, is very difficult to prove because there is often no tangible evidence of the contract and the existence of the contract can only be supported by the employee’s own testimony.
Breach of Employment Contracts
If you entered into an employment contract prior to beginning your employment, then both you and your employer must follow the provisions of the contract for the duration of the contract period. If your employer breaches the contract by terminating you prematurely, even though you have not committed a fireable offense pursuant to the provisions of the contract, then your termination is considered wrongful. However, if you do breach the provisions of the contract and commit a fireable offense outlined in said contract, then your early termination will not be considered wrongful.
Discrimination Based on Your Protected Class Status
Regardless of whether or not you are an at-will employee, employers cannot discriminate against you for being a member of a protected class as set forth in federal and state law. If the reason for your termination is because of your status as a member of one or more of the protected classes outlined in federal and state law, then your termination will be considered wrongful. Federal law, New Jersey state law, and Pennsylvania state law prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of the following attributes:
- National Origin
Additionally, New Jersey and Pennsylvania state law prohibit employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of employees’ sexual orientation. If an employee possesses one of these attributes, then they are considered members of a protected class. If an employer discriminates against an employee by taking an adverse employment action solely on the basis of the employee’s protected class status, then that action will be considered wrongful. Adverse employment actions include termination.
Retaliation and Protected Activity
Pursuant to federal and state law, employees are entitled to report any discrimination they experience at work or any illegal activities their employers are engaging in without the threat of suffering adverse employment actions. Employees also have the right to testify on behalf of others who report discriminatory or illegal practices at work without the threat of suffering an adverse employment action. If an employee does report discriminatory or illegal practices engaged in by his or her employer or testifies on behalf of others who report discriminatory or illegal practices occurring at work and gets terminated as a result, this is considered illegal retaliation by an employer and the employee will be considered to have been wrongfully terminated.
In addition to reporting discriminatory or illegal practices and testifying on behalf of others who report this type of conduct, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) prohibits certain employers from terminating an employee if he or she takes less than 12 weeks off of work to treat a serious medical condition or to take care of an immediate family member that has a serious medical condition. If an employee is terminated for this reason and she is a protected employee under FMLA, then the employee will be considered to have been wrongfully terminated. Additionally, under Pennsylvania and New Jersey state law, employers cannot terminate an employee for missing work to attend jury duty or to perform military service. If employers do terminate an employee on these two bases, then the termination will be considered wrongful.
Contact a Cherry Hill Labor and Employment Law Attorney for a Consultation About Your Wrongful Termination Claim in New Jersey Today
If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated from your employment by an employer, you need to speak with a qualified attorney. The New Jersey and Pennsylvania labor and employment law attorneys at Begelman & Orlow, P.C. represent clients who have been wrongfully terminated from their employment throughout both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Cherry Hill, NJ, Camden, NJ, Philadelphia, PA and Conshohocken, PA. We understand how challenging this time can be for you, which is why we will fight hard to protect your interests, and the interests of your loved ones, throughout the legal process. Call us at (866) 627-7052 or fill out our confidential contact form to schedule a consultation. We have an office conveniently located at 411 Route 70 East, Cherry Hill, NJ 08034, as well as offices located in Conshohocken, PA.
The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.