Employment At Will Doctrine

Many persons contact me about being fired. Some I can help, some I cannot.

My first question is whether the employee belonged to a union. If the answer is yes, then the Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) sets out the circumstances under which the employee can be fired.

My next question is whether there was a written employment contract. This is quite rare, but if it exists then it governs the circumstances for firing an employee.

If the answer is again no, then I question the person trying to determine the real reason the employer fired the person. The purpose is to determine whether it was for an illegal reason.

Because if it was not for an illegal reason, I then explain the employment at will doctrine, which allows an employer to fire for good, bad, or no reason. Just as an employee can quit for good, bad, or no reason.

A firing is only against the law if it is for an illegal reason. Such as race, religion, gender, or age. Or due to military service, or jury service. Or owning a gun, or smoking.

Of course, an employer when firing for an illegal reason often gives another reason for the termination. This can be often proven even in the absence of direct evidence. There can be various legal presumptions that aid the employee, or other evidence. See Extra Credit section for more details.

Even if the termination is legal, often the fired employee can file for unemployment compensation. Sometimes this is the only remedy.

If you do think you have been fired illegally, call me and we can discuss it.


  1. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, a U.S. Supreme Court case from 2000, allows a judge to instruct a jury that when an employer states a false reason for a termination, the jury may presume that real reason is an illegal reason.

  2. McDonnell-Douglas v. Green, a U.S. Supreme Court case from 1973, allows proof of illegal discrimination through a burden-shifting paradigm. That is, that an employee has a characteristic that has been historically discriminated against can give rise to a presumption that the firing is for that reason. The employer does have the opportunity to show a legal reason for the firing, though.