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Wrongful Terminations in Pennsylvania and the At-Will Doctrine

October 1, 2021 At-Will Employment

Pennsylvania Is an “At-Will” Employment State. You Can Still Be Wrongfully Fired

In Pennsylvania, as in many other states across the nation, employment is “at will.” That means your employer can fire you for any reason, at any time—and you can also leave your job for any reason and at any time.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t be wrongfully terminated in Pennsylvania. You definitely can.

Exceptions to the “At-Will Doctrine”

Even in at-will states, employees have certain federal protections. These generally come under laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA).

In Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) provides additional protection.

What that means is that while your employer can technically fire you for any reason under “at-will” doctrine, discriminatory reasons are still not allowed. For example, your employer cannot fire you for these reasons:

  • They don’t want to provide you with reasonable accommodation for a disability.
  • They believe your job is better suited to someone of the opposite sex.
  • They object to your religion or sexual orientation.
  • They believe your job can be better performed by someone younger.
  • They would prefer to hire someone of a different race or nationality.

It might seem like it would be easy for an employer to simply not mention a discriminatory reason when they fire you. However, there are ways to determine in court whether the employer’s reason was discriminatory—even if they don’t admit to it.

Some noteworthy factors include whether you can in fact do your job (perhaps with reasonable accommodations, as with a disability) and whether there is a pattern to which employees they have fired.

Protection From Retaliation

In addition, even if you live in an at-will employment state, your employer can’t fire you in retaliation for exercising a federally protected right. This means your employer can’t fire you for taking actions such as:

  • Participating in an investigation of wrongdoing
  • Forming or joining a union
  • Making wage and hour claims under state or federal wage and hour laws
  • Talking to other employees about workplace-rights issues
  • Filing a claim about workplace discrimination or sexual harassment
  • Reporting regulatory violations to the appropriate authorities
  • Taking leave you are legally entitled to, such as FMLA leave

Other Protections Under Pennsylvania Law

In addition, courts in Pennsylvania have consistently protected employees dismissed for reasons including:

  • Reporting or refusing to participate in an illegal activity
  • Having a criminal conviction on their record that is unrelated to their current job requirements
  • Participating in jury duty or other public duties
  • Reporting workplace safety violations
  • Testifying against an employer or supervisor

In addition to these exceptions, employees in Pennsylvania are protected if they have clauses in their contract that have other terms and conditions for employment.

So if you have a job contract or collective bargaining agreement that specifies when you can and cannot be fired, that takes precedence over at-will doctrine.

Do You Believe You Were Wrongfully Fired? Contact an Attorney 

If you believe you were wrongfully fired, you should contact a knowledgeable employment attorney.

Pennsylvania is an at-will employment state, but that doesn’t mean your employer can fire you for discriminatory or retaliatory reasons, and it doesn’t mean you have zero rights or recourse. Your employment attorney can help you recover damages from your employer.

Call us at 267-273-1054 or email us at for a free, confidential consultation today.

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.