Wrongful termination laws exist to give employers guidelines as to what is and is not considered lawful and just in terms of severing employee relationships. Conversely, they also give employees who feel they were wrongfully fired legal recourse, if warranted. Most modern wrongful termination laws center around the notion of at-will employment.
At-will Employment in Alaska
Alaska is one of many U.S. states that observes a concept known as “at-will employment.” Employers in at-will employment states are able to terminate employees at any time and for any reason, and even for no reason at all, provided they aren’t violating a number of exceptions to the at-will employment concept. Additionally, Alaska’s employees are legally allowed to quit a position at any time and for any reason, although there are a number of important exceptions.
Wrongful Termination in Alaska
While Alaska is an at-will employment state, there are a number of circumstances in which the notion is no longer valid. These exceptions exist to prevent employers of certain types of employees from taking advantage of the relationship. Generally, Alaska’s employers may fire employees for just about any reason, as long as there is not an existing employment contract, the reason isn’t retaliatory in nature, and it doesn’t infringe on a protected right (i.e., is discriminatory). It is critical that Alaska’s employers come to fully comprehend Alaska’s wrongful termination laws to ensure they continue to stay on the right side of them and don’t risk getting sued by employees.
Breach of Contract: Alaska employees who are currently under employment contracts are not governed by the same rules as at-will employees. The state recognizes three main types of employment contracts: oral, written and implied. An “implied” contract is one that may not be formal in nature but instead hinges on, for example, comments made by the employer. If an employer says all employees have six months to get up to speed in a position and then terminates an employee after only two months, that employer may be sued for breach of contract in an Alaska court of law. Please note that Alaska’s breach of contract guidelines also apply to union collective bargaining contracts.
Discrimination: Employees in the United States are protected from being fired for reasons that are considered discriminatory. For example, those who employ four or more workers may not terminate on the basis of citizenship status, while those with 15 or more employees cannot terminate due to race, color, country of origin, pregnancy status, sex, religion, disability or genetics. Furthermore, those with more than 20 employees cannot fire or discriminate because of age. Alaska law takes things a step further. The state’s anti-discrimination laws apply to all employers, regardless of how many they employ, and they also make it illegal to discriminate based on parental or marital status, unless there is a reasonable distinction that makes it necessary to do so. Most of today’s lawsuits against employers argue discrimination in some capacity, so it is especially important that Alaska’s employers come to fully comprehend what is considered a discriminatory practice in the eyes of the law.
Retaliation: Alaska’s wrongful termination laws also prevent employers within the state from terminating employees who assert their protected rights. For example, employees cannot be fired for blowing the whistle about unfair, unsafe or unsanitary work conditions. They also cannot be fired for refusing to commit crimes on behalf of their bosses.
Public Policy: Like many other states, Alaska observes what’s known as a “public policy” exception to the notion of at-will employment. Basically, this means Alaska’s employees cannot be fired for reasons Alaskan society would recognize as illegal. For example, workers can’t be fired for failing to lie, steal or otherwise engage in criminal activity for their employer, because doing so would contradict Alaska’s existing public policies.
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