Does An Employee Need A Reason To Terminate?

Written by: Natalie Klyashtorny

As part of our employment law practice, we frequently deal with situations in which an employee is terminated for no reason at all.

Unfortunately for these employees, Pennsylvania, like most other states, is an “employee-at will” state, meaning that, subject to a few limited exceptions, the employer (and, likewise, the employee) has the power to terminate the employment relationship for any or no reason.

Exceptions to the legal doctrine of “employment-at-will” have been recognized in only the most limited circumstances, such as if the discharge would be discriminatory on the basis of race, gender, national origin, religion, age or disability, is retaliatory, or is in violation of a written contract entered into between the employer and employee, a statute or public policy.

Although the public policy exception to the legal doctrine of “employment-at-will” may sound like a broad one, it is actually not. Pennsylvania courts have found an employer to have violated the public policy exception only in the most limited of circumstances, such as discharging an employee for filing either an unemployment or worker’s compensation claim, serving on a jury, refusing to submit to a polygraph test, refusing to participate in a lobbying effort, or for a prior criminal conviction that had been pardoned.

If you or someone you know is anticipating the end of an employment relationship, whether as an employer or as an employee, it is wise for them to consult with an attorney sooner rather than later, as there are many issues which should be addressed prior to the separation from employment, such as severance, unemployment compensation, and preserving neutral references, to name a few.