No. That is the simple answer to the following questions: Can I be fired for my race, gender, disability, national origin, or for being at least forty (40) years old? Can I be fired for my alien status? Can I be fired for making a complaint that my employer violated the Occupation Safety and Health Act (“OSHA”)? Can I be fired for refusing to take a lie detector test? Can I be fired in retaliation for making a complaint to my employer that I am facing discrimination? Can I be fired for refusing to do anything illegal for my employer, or for making a report that my employer is violating public policy?
While many employees, even executives, are at-will – and can be terminated for almost any reason – federal law protects employees so that they cannot be fired in certain situations.
An employer cannot terminate any employee for a discriminatory reason because federal law protects certain classes of people. Thus, an employer cannot fire someone for the individual’s race, gender, disability, national origin, or if the person is at least forty (40) years old.
In addition, the Immigration Reform and Control Act prevents an employer from firing an employee due to the employee’s alien status.
Pursuant to the Employee Polygraph Protection Act, an employer also cannot fire an employee that refuses to take a lie detector test.
Federal law also prevents retaliation, and protects employees that make complaints regarding discrimination. For example, an employer cannot legally fire a female employee because she made complained the employer discriminated against her due to her gender. Notably, she would not have to prove that discrimination actually occurred. Instead, she has to prove that her employer fired, or retaliated against, her for making a complaint about the discrimination.
Similar to protections for general retaliation, an employer cannot fire an employee for making complaints about OSHA violations, or the employer’s violations of health and safety standards.
Finally, an employer cannot fire an employee when the termination would violate public policy. Thus, an employer cannot fire an employee that refuses to engage in any illegal activity, an employee that makes complaints regarding an employer’s illegal activities, or an employee that uses his or her legal rights, such as taking medical leave.
Ultimately, being an at-will employee does not provide an employer with carte blanche to terminate individuals. An employer cannot fire an employee for a discriminatory reason, in retaliation when an employee exercises his or her legal rights, or in violation of public policy.
Photo Credit: Alon via Flickr Creative Commons