In Rhode Island, employers are bound by wrongful termination laws when it comes to letting go of their employees. When considering whether to fire an employee, employers must look at several factors governed by these laws. For example, employers cannot terminate an employee if doing so would result in a breach of an employment contract, in retaliation or based on discrimination. It is crucial employers understand these laws to avoid a wrongful termination lawsuit. At-will employment is a key factor involved in wrongful termination laws, and require careful consideration when employers develop and implement company policies.
At-Will Employment in Rhode Island
At-will employment laws enable employers in Rhode Island to terminate workers at any time without giving them prior notice or reason why they are being fired. In addition, employers are legally allowed to alter the terms of employment, such as wages and benefits, without giving the employee notice. Similarly, employees have the legal right to go on strike or quit at any time. What’s more is they do not have to give notice to their employers that they are doing so.
Wrongful Termination in Rhode Island
Although Rhode Island is an at-will employment state, there are several exceptions to the rule. Federal and state laws ban employers from taking advantage of employees by outlining certain circumstances as to where the at-will employment laws do not apply. Employers cannot fire an employee due to discrimination, retaliation or when it breaks an employment contract. Employees who are terminated under these exceptions may have legal grounds to file a lawsuit against their employer for wrongful termination.
Breach of Contract: When an employer has an employment contract with a worker, he or she does not the legal right to fire that worker if it goes against the terms outlined in the contract. Employers who break a legal contract could face legal repercussions. While several states recognize implied contracts, Rhode Island does not. An implied contract is one where the terms of the agreement are given orally or assumed rather than actually written out in a document. In order for a contract to be valid and enforceable in the state, Rhode Island requires the terms of the employment contract be clearly written out.
Discrimination: A number of wrongful termination claims involve issues pertaining to discrimination. Employers in Rhode Island cannot terminate an employee based upon his or her race, age, sexual orientation, sex, gender identity, color, religious preferences or disability. Furthermore, workers cannot be fired for participating in a public hearing or acting in an official investigation.
Retaliation: Under the Rhode Island Whistleblowers’ Protection Act, employers do not have the legal right to fire an employee because he or she has reported that the company is in violation of the law. This includes instances where an employee reports an issue involving occupational health and safety, misuse of hazardous substances, minimum wage or overtime violations, filing for workers’ compensation, acts of discrimination and/or wage discrimination to law enforcement officials or other state or federal officials. For example, a worker cannot be fired because he or she makes a claim to officials that a company is not adhering to minimum wage laws.
Public Policy: Under the public policy exception, employers cannot require employees to perform tasks that act against general public interest or are in violation of state or federal law. For instance, a waiter who refuses to serve alcohol to an intoxicated guest is acting in accordance with the law, and therefore cannot be disciplined because he or she refused to serve the guest. Also, an employer cannot fire an employee because he or she engages in certain acts that are in the public interest, such as joining the National Guard or performing jury duty.
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