What all employees should know about at-will employment

Political arguments seem to be heating up everywhere, including the workplace.

That can lead to some uncomfortable situations, especially if you disagree with your boss or if you hold an unpopular opinion compared to the rest of the company’s workforce.

That raises a host of interesting questions, such as:

  • Can you lose your job because of your political views?
  • How does free speech factor in?
  • How are your rights different if you work for a public employer?

Let’s dig in to some of these questions.

Yes, You Can Be Fired Over Politics

It may seem unfair, but yes, most employees can be fired for expressing political beliefs that the boss finds unsavory.

That’s because many states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, are at-will employment states. That means that unless a narrow category of exceptions applies, employers generally have the right to terminate employees at any time, for any reason – or even for no reason at all.

In a very broad sense, that means that you could be potentially lawfully terminated because your boss doesn’t agree with the political ideas that you’ve expressed in person or on social media.

However, it’s important to note that at-will terminations can often be used as a mask to disguise discrimination.

Let’s face it: political conversations relating to race, religion, or women’s issues can easily veer off into discriminatory talk.

If you feel that you’ve been fired for countering unlawful conduct or sentiments, you may be able to make a claim for wrongful termination due to discrimination.

What About Free Speech?

Unfortunately, many people have a lot of misconceptions about free speech.

While the First Amendment does contain language protecting freedom of speech, the amendment stops short of protecting all language. For example, speech that is intended to incite lawless action is generally not protected.

It’s also important to note that the First Amendment mainly pertains to the government’s role in free speech. Generally, the amendment is intended to protect people from being silenced, jailed, or otherwise punished for putting forth certain ideas.

However, the right to free speech generally does not bar companies from lawfully terminating someone who promotes ideas that may reflect poorly on the company.

Exceptions to At-Will Employment

It’s important to note that not all workers are at-will employees, even if they work in at at-will state. People exempt from the at-will doctrine may include:

  • Civil service workers. They may be covered by provisions that require “just cause” (usually a valid disciplinary or business reason) for termination.
  • Employees who are covered by a collective bargaining agreement. These workers are usually protected by special clauses that spell out permissible reasons and procedures for termination.
  • People who have signed employment contracts. They are typically bound by the terms and conditions of that contract.

Contact the Murphy Law Group Now for a Free Consultation

If you believe that you’ve been unlawfully terminated, demoted, or otherwise treated unlawfully due to discrimination, it’s a good idea to speak to an attorney to find out about your rights under the law.

Email us at murphy@phillyemploymentlawyer.com, or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation.