Exceptions to At-Will Employment Rules in Washington DC
It’s not uncommon for many businesses in Washington DC to have “at-will” employees on their staff. These are employees who are not under a contract and can leave their job at any time. This also means that as the employer, you are generally allowed to fire them at any time for some reason or no reason at all. However, there are some exceptions to this general rule. If you fire someone for one of these exceptions, you run the risk of the ex-employee filing a wrongful termination claim. You can prevent wrongful termination claims by being proactive and speaking with a Washington DC wrongful termination attorney who can help ensure your business adheres to all federal and state labor laws.
Exceptions to At-Will Employment
It’s important to understand what some of the common exceptions to at-will employment are that could create problems for you as a business owner and employer.
- Workplace Discrimination: There are both federal and state statutes that state that an employer cannot fire an employee because of their race, age, sex, national origin, disability, religion, marital status, or political affiliation.
- Medical and Family Leave: The Family and Medical Leave Act states that an employer cannot fire an employee who has taken leave because they are pregnant, have medical problems, or need to care for someone in their immediate family, provided that the employee complies with legal procedural requirements.
- Refusal to Engage in Illegal Activity: You cannot fire an employee because they refuse to partake in illegal activity for the business’s benefit.
- Retaliation: You cannot fire an employee only if the employee has been a whistleblower, filed a workers’ compensation claim or sexual harassment complaint, made a report about illegal workplace activity, engaged in union activity, or challenged hourly wage violation.
- Implied Contract: There are some jurisdictions that will consider an employee under contract if the employer promises continued employment as long as their performance is satisfactory. If this happens, the employee could lose their “at-will” status and therefore, cannot be fired without cause.
- Failure to Follow Your Own Employment Guidelines: Even with at-will employees, an employer is required to follow the terms set forth in their own employment policies regarding hiring and firing employees. There are some cases where these employment policies may be treated as a contract.
Violating one of these exceptions to the “at-will” employment rules could result in a wrongful termination claim. These can include lengthy litigation time and expensive legal defense expenses. And, if this is a violation that has occurred multiple times, you could even face the risk of a class action suit. Speaking with an employment lawyer who can ensure your business complies with all local and federal employment rules can save you both the time and expense of litigation.
Retaining an Wrongful Termination Attorney in Washington DC
If you have questions regarding wrongful termination, or you have been put on notice of a pending claim from an ex-employee, it’s important you contact an attorney right away. The team at Tobin, O’Connor & Ewing in Washington DC has experience in business litigation, including wrongful termination claims. Contact our office at 202-362-5900 to schedule a consultation.