Certain laws and regulations exist that govern the terms under which an employer may fire an employee. In general, employers may not let an employee go for discriminatory reasons, such as the employee’s color, race, sex, age or religion. Employers are also prohibited from firing an employee in retaliation for certain actions by the employee. Employers who violate these laws may find themselves facing legal action from a terminated employee.
At-will Employment in Kentucky
Kentucky and most other states are what is known as at-will employment states. This means that, generally, employers can hire and fire employees at their discretion and do not need to provide a reason or notice in order to do so. However, employers may not fire an employee if it is in violation of an employment agreement or contract or if the employee is a union member. Employers should, therefore, be aware of what circumstances are considered exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine.
Wrongful Termination in Kentucky
Both state and federal laws prohibit employers from firing an employee in certain circumstances. For example, an employer cannot fire an employee for discriminatory reasons, and it also may not fire an employee in retaliation for the employee asserting his or her rights. In the event a contract between the employer and employee exists, the employer is bound by the terms of that contract. Should an employer violate an employee’s rights, the employer may be found liable for the employee’s wages, benefits, damages and attorney fees.
Breach of Contract: In certain situations, the employer and employee may enter into an agreement in the form of an employment contract. Such contracts often outline the specific circumstances under which the employee may be terminated. Should the employer breach any term of the contract, the employee may seek legal action against the employer. In Kentucky, contracts do not have to be written in order to provide the employee with such protections. The law also recognizes oral or implied contracts, such as company policies set forth in an employee handbook. A violation of that company policy may also be considered a breach of contract.
Discrimination: Under federal law, an employer may not fire an employee based on a protected class or status. These include the employee’s race, color, sex, national origin, age, pregnancy, disability or citizenship. Most of the federal discrimination laws apply to companies with at least 15 employees, with age discrimination and citizenship discrimination being the exceptions. Additionally, Kentucky law protects employees from being fired for the above reasons, as well as for HIV/AIDS, off-duty tobacco use, and certain black lung-related illnesses. Employers with at least eight employees are required to adhere to Kentucky discrimination laws.
Retaliation: State and federal employment laws also protect employees from being fired in retaliation for asserting their rights. For example, if an employee believes that they were denied a promotion because of their age and files a complaint with human resources, the employer cannot take any action against or fire the employee for filing such a complaint. Employees are also protected from being fired for refusing to violate a state or federal law or for refusing to take part in an illegal activity. Should a complaint be fired against a company for discrimination, workplace safety, or any other reason, an employee may not be fired for cooperating in any resulting investigation.
Public Policy: There is also an exception to the at-will employment doctrine in Kentucky for public policy. This concept often overlaps with retaliation law and says that an employer cannot fire an at-will employee if such termination would be in violation of a well-established public policy. For example, the law allows workers to file for workers’ compensation benefits if they qualify for them. Therefore, an employer may not fire an employee for filing for workers’ compensation since the law expressly allows him or her to do so.
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