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On the Job: Legal Questions About At-Will Employment

by PoP Sponsor July 17, 2017 at 12:15 pm 0

This column is written and sponsored by Alan Lescht & Associates, PC, an employment litigation firm in Washington, DC, that handles cases involving contract disputes, wage and hour issues, discrimination and retaliation, wrongful termination, whistleblower retaliation and security clearances.

Welcome to On the Job with DC’s Employment Attorney, bringing you employment law insight. Alan Lescht & Associates knows that understanding your rights is vital to your professional success. For more than 20 years, our firm has represented clients in Washington, DC, Maryland, and Northern Virginia, and federal employees around the world. Each of our columns will feature a legal topic that is pertinent to employees in DC.

Can my employer fire me for any reason?

In most circumstances, yes. You are considered employed “at-will” unless you have a contract stating otherwise, or you are a government employee. At-will employees can be fired for any reason or no reason at all. Your employer does not have to give you advanced notice or tell you why you are being fired. However, you are equally free to quit at any time without notice.

There is one important caveat — you cannot be fired for an illegal reason.

What reasons are illegal?

The law prohibits most employers from making employment decisions based on protected characteristics. This means that employers may not demote, suspend, terminate, or otherwise change the terms of employment based on an employee’s color, disability, gender, national origin, race, religion, etc. Employers are also prohibited from retaliating against workers who report violations of employee rights or other unlawful activity. For example, you can’t be fired for complaining about discrimination or not receiving your paycheck.

What if I have an employment contract?

A valid employment contract may limit your employer’s ability to fire you. For example, a contract may require an employer to give you advanced notice before terminating your employment. A contract may guarantee continued employment for a certain period of time, unless, for example, you engage in misconduct.

Remember, offer letters are usually not considered to be contracts. For instance, if you have an offer letter that says you will be staffed on a one-year project, your employer may be able to fire you before the year is over.

What about government employees?

Federal, as well as most state and local government employees, are generally not considered to be at-will. After completing a probationary period, most federal employees must receive written notice of the reasons for a proposed removal, as well as an opportunity to respond orally and in writing. The federal government must prove that an adverse employment action (e.g., suspension, reprimand, removal) is reasonable under the circumstances and consistent with penalties imposed on other federal employees. Most DC employees also have the right to notice and a chance to respond.

To learn more about your employee rights, contact Alan Lescht & Associates today. Call us at (202) 463-6036, send us an email, or visit our website and blog. Our 13 attorneys litigate all types of employment matters. Super Lawyers, Washingtonian, Newsweek, AVVO, and others have recognized us as a leading employment law firm in DC.

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