Employers in Pennsylvania should consider federal and state wrongful termination laws when determining whether to fire employees. According to these laws, there are certain circumstances under which employers can let an employee go. Pennsylvania law protects employees from discrimination, retaliation and breach of contract. Employers who do not act in accordance with these laws could find themselves involved in wrongful termination lawsuits. It is important that employers fully understand the scope of these laws and implement them into their policies in order to avoid legal repercussions. At-will employment is a crucial component of employment laws, and should be carefully considered when creating employment contracts and terminating employees.
At-will Employment in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, employment is at-will, which means employers have the right to terminate an employee without reason and without giving him or her prior notice. At-will employment also describes the ability employers have to change the terms of employment at any given time. For example, an employer could change workers’ wages and benefits without giving employees prior notice. Employees also have the legal right to quit working or participate in a strike at any time without giving prior notice and without fear that legal recourse will be taken against them.
Wrongful Termination in Pennsylvania
Although Pennsylvania follows the concept of at-will employment, there are situations where an employer may come under scrutiny for wrongful termination. An employer may be held liable if he or she goes against the terms of a formal contract, discriminates against an employee or group of employees or acts in retaliation against an employee who has voiced a concern over company policy. Employers who engage in these activities may face wrongful termination charges.
Breach of Contract: If a Pennsylvania employer has entered into a contract with a worker, that worker is no longer considered at-will. Instead, the terms outlined in the contract apply. A breach of contract occurs when an employer terminates an employee in such a way that the contract is broken. For example, if an employer hires an employee under a two-year contract, he or she must uphold that agreement. Unless there are other terms outlined in the contract that enable the employer to fire the worker for poor job performance or other reasons.
Pennsylvania does not recognize oral or implied contracts. Implied contracts have no actual documentation or record of the agreement, but rather assume an agreement was made. In order to claim wrongful termination against an employer who acted in breach of contract, an employee must show clear evidence that an employment contract existed with the employer.
Discrimination: According to Pennsylvania statutes, employers cannot fire employees based on discrimination of any kind. This includes differences of color, age, race, sex, national origin and/or religion. Employees cannot be terminated or treated differently due to a medical condition, disability or for refusing to take a polygraph test.
Retaliation: The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act prohibits employers from terminating employees in retaliation for making a claim against the company. For example, an employees who claims his or her employer is using public funds inadequately, committing fraud or engaging in any other illegal acts is also immune from termination as a form of retaliation.
Public Policy: Under public policy, employers do not have the legal right to require their workers commit a crime, or engage in an activity that prevents workers from adhering to the law. Employers cannot terminate an employee for serving on jury duty or taking an approved medical leave of absence. For example, an employer is unable to fire an employee for refusing to serve alcohol to an intoxicated customer, as asking the employee to serve alcohol to the intoxicated customer would be asking them to violate the law.
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