Wrongful termination laws are designed to outline what is lawful in terms of terminating employee relationships and to give fired employees recourse in the event they feel their firing was unlawful or unjust. Much of the basis of today’s wrongful termination laws stems from the concept of at-will employment, so it is integral that today’s employers know and follow these laws to avoid becoming subjects of lawsuits.
At-will Employment in New Jersey
Like many states, New Jersey is an at-will employment state. This means the employer and employee relationship can generally be terminated by either party at any time and without good reason.
Wrongful Termination in New Jersey
Though New Jersey employers have the right, under state law, to terminate employee relationships for virtually any reason, a number of exceptions exist. For example, employees who have existing employment contracts, whether oral or written, may not be terminated from their contracted positions. Also, those with legal entitlements to positions, such as those with tenure or those who work in civil service, are considered at-will employment exceptions. Any employer found in violation may be sued for wrongful termination in a New Jersey court of law, so it is critical that state employers familiarize themselves thoroughly with this area of law.
Breach of Contract: Though New Jersey is one of many at-will employment states, there are still a number of circumstances under which state employers may be sued for breach of contract. State employers also have to be careful to follow any rules regarding termination they may print in an employee handbook. For example, if an employer says employees are subject to a “three-strike” rule and they only receive one strike before termination, they may decide to sue the employer for breach of contract. What’s more is that they are well within their legal rights to sue the employer. Employees who are part of a union collective bargaining contract also cannot be fired while under contract.
Discrimination: The vast majority of today’s wrongful termination lawsuits involve charges of discrimination, at least to some degree. New Jersey’s employers are not allowed to terminate employee relationships based on the employee’s race, color, sex, religious practices, age, disability or pregnancy status. State employers also generally do not have the right to fire employees who are considered “whistleblowers.” What this means is the employee is calling attention to unfair or unlawful business practices, unsafe working conditions or similar concerns involving the work environment. New Jersey companies do not have the legal right to fire those who take family medical leave, or employees who have disabilities the employer refuses to accommodate.
Retaliation: The law protects New Jersey employees from being fired in “retaliation” for engaging in acts the employee may view as detrimental to the company. For example, employers cannot fire employees who have made allegations of unsafe or unsanitary working conditions. Similarly, state employers may not lawfully terminate employees who have reported they didn’t receive overtime pay, or employees who refuse to lie on the employer’s behalf.
Public Policy: New Jersey is among many states that observe what’s called a “public policy” exception to the at-will employment concept. Essentially, this means employers do not have the ability to terminate employees for reasons the general public would not consider reasonable grounds for termination. For example, state laws protect an employee’s right to pursue workers compensation pay if he or she becomes injured in the workplace or while on the job. Thus, an employee who works to secure workers compensation pay may not be fired for doing so. Employers do not have the legal right to fire employees who refuse to lie or perjure themselves on behalf of the company, because perjury is considered unlawful.
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