Wrongful termination laws exist at the state or federal level and serve as guidelines that stipulate whether an employee’s firing was warranted, and if not, what can be done about it. Wrongful termination laws are based largely on the concept of at-will employment, and it is critical that today’s employers familiarize themselves with this area of law to avoid being the subject of a lawsuit.
At-will Employment in New Mexico
New Mexico is considered an “at-will employment” state, which means its employers have the right to fire employees at any time and for just about any reason. Similarly, employees in New Mexico have the right to leave a job at any time and for almost any reason.
Wrongful Termination in New Mexico
Though New Mexico is an at-will employment state, several exceptions exist. For example, New Mexico’s employees cannot be fired because of a protected characteristic, such as their color, race or religious beliefs. Similarly, New Mexico employees cannot be fired for calling attention to unfair working conditions or engaging in similar “whistleblowing” behaviors. Any employer who terminates an employee based on any of the aforementioned criteria may be held liable for doing so in a court of law.
Breach of Contract: Under New Mexico law, employees who enter into oral or written employment contracts are no longer at-will employees. What this means is they cannot be terminated at any time or for any reason as long as the agreed-upon contract stipulates otherwise. Additionally, employers are bound to adhere to any statements in regards to employment in an employee handbook. For example, if a handbook says an employee must receive a specific number of warnings before termination occurs and the employee does not receive a warning before being terminated, the employer can be sued for breach of contract. Breach of contract laws also apply to collective bargaining contracts in unions.
Discrimination: The majority of wrongful termination lawsuits relate to discrimination on some level, which is why it is especially important that today’s employers understand employee rights in this area. In the state of New Mexico, employers with four or more full-time employees may not terminate employee relationships based on the employee’s color, race, country of origin, pregnancy status, religion or disability, among related areas. Those with more than 15 employees may not terminate employee relationships based on sexual orientation, while those with 50 or more employees may not terminate relationships based on an employee’s marital status.
Retaliation: One of the exceptions to the concept of at-will employment in the state of New Mexico involves the fact that employers are not allowed to retaliate against employees who have filed a complaint against them. For example, if an employee feels he or she was not promoted because of his or her race and that individual files a complaint about the perceived injustice, the employer may not terminate the employee for doing so. Furthermore, employers cannot terminate employees for testifying against the employer in court or otherwise engaging in actions to stop discriminatory employment practices.
Public Policy: Though New Mexico is indeed an at-will employment state, there is a public policy exemption. Essentially, this exception mandates that employers are not allowed to terminate employees for reasons society as a whole would consider unjust. To determine what is considered public policy, lawmakers review state statutes, among other areas. For example, because New Mexico employees have the option under law to seek workers compensation pay, they cannot be fired from their jobs for doing so. On the other hand, employers are not allowed to convince employees to make false claims on the company’s behalf, because this would be an act of perjury, which is illegal under state law.
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