At Will Employment Law and Job Termination
At-will employment is an employment contract between an employer and an employee that does not have a specified duration. It allows either party to end the employment relationship at any time for any reason, with or without notice. In some cases, employers may provide severance pay or other benefits to an employee when their employment is terminated, but this is done at the discretion of the employer.
In most cases, employers have the right to fire employees for any reason. However, the firing may be considered wrongful termination if it violates an employee's civil rights or is based on discrimination. For example, an employer may not fire someone because of their race, religion, gender, age, or disability.
What You Need To Know
Losing your job is bad news, and is often unfair. But in Louisiana, as in most states, a job is usually "at-will." "At-will" means that your employer can fire you for any reason or even for no reason at all, unless the reason is illegal. You can also leave anytime you want. But if you have an employment contract, or you are a union or government worker, your job is probably not "at-will." In that case, you probably have some extra protection against losing your job. But no matter what kind of job you have, if your boss is determined to fire you it is usually hard to stop it.
Ways to try to keep your job, or keep it a little longer.
- Look at your job's policies or personnel handbook. Talk to the company's human resources officer, or personnel manager, if there is one. Your employer may have internal grievance procedures that may help you.
- Try to get time to improve, if your employer wants to fire you for poor performance or a mistake.
- Talk to your union representative, if you have one.
- Talk to a lawyer if you think your employer is breaking the law in wanting to fire you (for example, illegal discrimination because of race, sex, religion, age, national origin, disability, pregnancy or because you reported your employer for violating a law). A lawyer may be able to help you keep your job, or work out a deal that gives you time and money in exchange for leaving on your own.
- You might also try to work out a deal yourself if you can't get a lawyer to help. You might be able to get a positive reference, or severance pay, or extra time. But be very careful of giving up your rights. Try to speak with a lawyer before signing any papers you do not understand.
Whether you are fired, laid off, or resign, there are some things you should do on your way out of a job:
- Act professionally. Don't burn your bridges or give your boss new reasons to justify your termination. Bad behavior after being fired can hurt your chances later in getting your job back, or getting unemployment compensation. Very bad behavior on the part of your employer when they fire you might give you a claim against them, however.
- Ask about any rights to continue fringe benefits, like health insurance or company pensions.
- Negotiate any severance pay or other benefits that you can.
- Be careful about signing any paper that gives up any of your rights against your employer. Try to speak with a lawyer before signing anything.
- Try to get letters of reference, or ask people willing to speak well of you on the job if you can use them as a reference. This may help you get a new job. Even if your supervisor doesn't like you, having other contacts can sometimes help.
- If you think you have a claim against your employer for wrongful termination (which can include a forced resignation), keep information or documents that will help you prove your case in an appeal or lawsuit, like names of witnesses, good performance evaluations, letters saying good things about you, or samples of your work. But do not take anything that is confidential or the company's property! That might be illegal or give the company another reason to justify your termination.
- File any internal appeals or grievances that you have a right to. If you are a government worker, this could get your job back. If you are a protected civil service worker, you may get your job back after going through a hearing. This could take many months, or even years, though.
It would be very unusual for an employer to pay you, or give you a job back, unless you filed a lawsuit and won. As we said above, most jobs in Louisiana will be "at-will" and you may not have any basis for a winning lawsuit. Whether or not you have a legal claim, it can be hard to accept the unfairness of what happened. These are some things you can do to resolve your mind and try to move on:
- Talk with as many lawyers as you can, and with the EEOC or other government agency that might be able to help, to find out if you have a claim. If you do, act quickly to protect your rights.
- Try to find another job as soon as you can.
- Apply for any government benefits (Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment insurance, etc.) that might help you in the meantime. There's lots of information about these benefits on this website.
- Make sure you get any job separation benefits (continuing health insurance, pension) you are entitled to from your former job.
- Get counseling if you need it (many cities or parishes have free mental health clinics that might help you).
If you think your employer fired you for an illegal reason, talk with a lawyer immediately. Different time limits apply to different employment laws. The quicker you act, the better. Most lawyers will give you a free consultation, to see if you have a case.
There are many laws that might protect you, or give you a claim against your employer for terminating your job. These laws may be city, state or federal laws. Some of them give you a claim not just for losing your job, but for not being hired, for not getting a promotion, or for other job actions. There are so many laws that we can't list them all here. Check out the website of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; the EEOC has good information about job discrimination laws here: www.eeoc.gov/facts/qanda.html.
But these kinds of reasons are usually illegal:
- Discrimination because of race, sex, age, pregnancy, disability, religion, national origin or immigration status. Some states have laws that protect people because of sexual orientation, but Louisiana does not. Some cities might have this kind of law (for example, New Orleans).
- Retaliation because you reported a legal violation, participated in an investigation of a legal (for example, environmental) violation (this is called "whistle-blowing"), or applied for some legal right (for example, workers compensation).
Many of these laws make you file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or other government agency before filing a lawsuit. In Louisiana, the EEOC only has one office, which is in New Orleans. This is its address and phone number:
Hale Boggs Federal Building, 500 Poydras Street, Suite 800, New Orleans, LA 70113; Phone: 1-800-669-4000
You can file a charge in person or by mail.
Other government agencies that you may want to talk to include the Louisiana or the United States Department of Labor (for many wage, work condition, or retaliation complaints), www.ldol.state.la.us or the Office of Special Counsel with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (for discrimination based on national origin or citizenship status).