Wrongful Termination in an At-Will State (Like Pennsylvania)
There Are Still Times When It’s Unlawful to Fire You
Pennsylvania is an “at-will” state—meaning employers can fire their workers at any time, for any reason or no particular reason at all. In practice, this can lead to situations that are deeply unfair to the fired employee—but are not unlawful.
However, there are still some situations where you may have a case in court for wrongful termination. Here are some examples of what wrongful termination looks like in an at-will state like Pennsylvania.
Firing You for Discriminatory Reasons
Under the law, your employer can fire you simply because they don’t like you. But they can’t fire you for discriminatory reasons—such as religion, race, skin color, gender, disability, or country of origin.
Some other examples of discriminatory reasons for firing you include:
- Your pregnancy status
- Your age (if you’re aged 40 or older)
- Your citizenship status
- Your genetic information
- You have a GED instead of a high school diploma
Firing You Because You Stood up for Your Rights
Your employer isn’t allowed to fire you for speaking up for yourself—for example, by reporting sexual harassment or blowing the whistle on safety violations. This holds true even if your accusation turns out not to be correct.
You also can’t be fired for doing something to assist in a discrimination investigation—such as speaking to investigators or testifying in court.
Firing You in Breach of Contract
In many cases, an employer in Pennsylvania can fire you even if it goes against the stated policy in their employee handbook. For instance, it’s not unlawful for them to fire you immediately, even if their handbook says they have to give you two weeks’ notice.
However, if you have a written contract that clearly lays out conditions under which you can and can’t be fired, your employer must honor the obligations stated in the contract. In Pennsylvania, clearly-stated verbal promises may also hold water in court.
Firing You for Taking Leave You’re Entitled to Take
There are a number of laws that give you certain rights with regard to leave, often requiring your employer to rehire you in the same position and at the same pay level when you return. For instance:
- FMLA leave. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, qualifying employees are entitled to take 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave to care for a family member or handle their own medical issues.
- Military leave. Under federal law, employees can take up to five unpaid years off to serve in the military. Employers must hold their job for when they return, and cannot discriminate against workers for their military service.
- Jury duty. Workers are allowed to take unpaid leave to serve on a jury, and employers are not permitted to retaliate against them for taking it. This applies to all employers with some limitations.
Firing You for Making a Request You’re Entitled to Make
Your employer can’t fire you for making a request for reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, or for filing a workers’ compensation claim.
Firing You for Refusing to Do Something Illegal
Pennsylvania courts have a vested interest in protecting the public interest, including shielding employees who refuse to participate in illegal activity.
Employers have been known to pressure employees to do things such as commit perjury in trials, fail to report ethics or regulatory violations, or blow the whistle on fraud. If you refuse to do something like that, you can’t be fired for it.
Talk to a Wrongful Termination Lawyer in Pennsylvania
Do you believe you were wrongfully fired? If so, you need to talk to a knowledgeable Pennsylvania employment lawyer.
The information provided here does not constitute legal advice. It is intended for general purposes only. If you have questions about a specific legal issue, you should speak to an attorney.