reasons you can and cannot be fired in new jersey

Reasons You Can Be Fired and Cannot Be Fired in New Jersey

By Thomas McKinney

As an employee, it is important to understand your legal rights and protections. This includes knowing the difference between being lawfully and unlawfully terminated. This blog will provide an enlightening overview of the legal landscape governing employment termination in New Jersey. The blog goes in-depth to examine the grounds upon which an employer can legally dismiss an employee, such as poor performance, policy violation, or economic downturns. However, it also equally emphasizes unlawful terminations and identifies the protected characteristics that make it illegal for employers to fire employees in New Jersey, such as race, religion, sex, disability, or age, among others.

Why You Can and Cannot Be Terminated in New Jersey

Most New Jersey workers are considered to be at-will employees. People often hear “at-will” and think this means that the employee can be terminated for any reason or no reason at all. After all, an at-will employee may be terminated for: 

  • Poor performance
  • Bad attitude
  • Poor attendance
  • Client or customer complaints
  • Staff reductions
  • Changes in seasonal staffing
  • Failing a drug test

While it is true that an at-will employee can be terminated for almost any reason, it does not mean they can be terminated for any reason. For instance, an at-will employee cannot be fired for a discriminatory reason.

Both federal law, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and state law, such as the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, protect all New Jersey employees, including at-will employees, from suffering adverse employment consequences based on discriminatory reasons. Adverse employment actions include demotion, pay cuts, and being fired. This means that New Jersey employers are prohibited from terminating an employment relationship based on an employee’s membership in a protected class. Protected classes include:

  • Race 
  • Sex
  • Gender and Gender identity
  • National origin
  • Pregnancy
  • Age
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Military status

In addition to at-will employees being protected from termination based on discriminatory reasons, they are also protected from being fired for refusing to violate the law or run afoul of public policy. They can also enjoy whistleblower protection and, as such, be protected from being fired for reporting any illegal or unsafe activity by the employer. Additionally, it is unlawful for an employer to terminate an employee, even an at-will employee, for filing for workers’ compensation benefits.

So, it is important to highlight the fact that at-will employees cannot be fired for any reason and they are protected from being terminated for discriminatory reasons. It is also important for an employee to be certain that they are actually an at-will employee. In some cases, an employee may have additional protections pursuant to an express or implied employment contract. An employee who has a written employment contract with their employer can only be lawfully terminated for violating the terms of the contract. Additionally, some employees are actually protected by an implied contract established with their employer which may have been unintentionally put in place through something like a verbal promise.

New Jersey Employment Law Attorneys

Have you been terminated for discriminatory reasons? Seek legal recourse for this unlawful action. The team at Castronovo & McKinney will be by your side every step of the way. Contact us today.

About the Author
Tom McKinney is an experienced NJ Employment Lawyer in all major areas of labor and employment law, including discrimination, harassment, overtime violations, wage and hour claims, sexual harassment, wrongful discharge, Title VII, ADA, ADEA, FMLA, LAD, FLSA, and all other employment law claims. Tom is admitted to practice in the States of New Jersey and New York, United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Southern District of New York, District of New Jersey, and United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Prior to forming the firm, Tom practiced at Gibbons P.C. in Newark, NJ. If you have any questions regarding this article, contact Tom here today.