New Jersey is an at-will employment state. This is to say that, in New Jersey, the default rule is that an employee is at-will unless stated otherwise. This is the default rule in most states. Employment at-will is, generally speaking, the principle that an employee can be fired from a job for pretty much any reason or no reason at all. This is, however, a generality. It does end up leaving people still wondering whether they can be fired for no reason in New Jersey.
In New Jersey, Can You Be Fired for No Reason?
If an employee is considered to be an “at-will” employee in New Jersey, this employee can be terminated from a job for no reason. The employer is not required to give a reason or have a reason for the termination. In fact, an “at-will” employee can be terminated for no reason or almost any reason. “Any,” however, is an important qualifier in this sentence. There are certain reasons an employer may not use to fire an employee as they are protected by law. Should an employer terminate an employee for any such protected reason, they can expose themselves to legal liability.
First of all, employers cannot legally terminate someone for an action that is protected by statute or constitutional right. This means that an employer cannot fire an employee because the employer reported illegal activity or for refusing to perform an illegal act. Additionally, an employer cannot fire someone in bad faith. You see, employers have a duty to act in good faith, and employees are protected by the law from being terminated in bad faith. Being fired in bad faith might be considered something like an employee being fired right before they retire in order for the employer to avoid paying retirement benefits. It may also include an employee being fired for frequently accessing employment benefits.
Employees are also protected from discriminatory firings. There are both state and federal laws in place to protect employees from suffering discriminatory actions in the workplace. Federal laws providing such protection include both the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act. It does not matter whether or not an employee is classified as an “at-will” employee or not, no employee can be fired based on a protected characteristic. Protected characteristics include:
Furthermore, an employee may be protected from retaliation based on their whistleblower status. Whistleblower status is attained when an employee has reported wrongdoing or is participating in an investigation of alleged wrongdoing.
Employment Law Attorneys
As you can see, employers have wide discretion when it comes to terminating at-will employees, the default status in New Jersey. Regardless, employers can be held liable for wrongfully terminating an employee. If you suspect you have been wrongfully terminated, talk to the employment law team at Castronovo & McKinney to discuss your options. Contact us today.