Know When You Can and Can’t Be Fired

Like many other states, Pennsylvania is an “at will” work state—where employers can terminate your services more or less any time, with or without cause. But does that mean, as an at-will employee, you have no rights or protections if your employer fires you?

Not exactly.

Here are a few things you should know about being an at-will employee.

“At Will” isn’t just about employer rights

It’s also about your rights. As an at-will employee, you can also quit your job at any time, for any reason or no reason at all. There’s no legal requirement to stay in a position you don’t want to be in.

Your contract may protect you from at-will firing

Your work contract may stipulate that your employer can only fire you for just cause, or it may lay out a period of employment with a specific end date. Those conditions take precedence over the at-will doctrine.

Union employees and civil servants also frequently have stricter protections around when and how they can be fired. 

You can’t be fired for retaliation or discriminatory purposes

Legislation including the Civil Rights Act (Title VII), the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act provide specific firing restrictions that supersede at-will employment.

Under these laws, you can’t be fired because of a disability, your race or ethnic background, or your religion, sex, or origin of nationality. You also can’t be fired for retaliation if you act within your rights—for instance, by reporting gender discrimination or participating in a federal investigation.

Other situations where you can’t be fired, even in an at-will state

There are a number of other situations where, even in an at-will state, your employer doesn’t have the right to fire you. The following is by no means an exhaustive list, but it will give you an idea:

  • Requesting a reasonable accommodation for a disability
  • Reporting sexual harassment
  • Filing a workers’ or unemployment compensation claim
  • Discussing work-related issues with co-workers, or forming a union
  • Taking family leave
  • Refusing to do something illegal
  • Blowing the whistle on illegal activity or safety violations
  • Missing work to perform jury duty

Talk to an Experienced Pennsylvania Employment Lawyer

Even if you are an at-will employee, you have rights with regard to your firing.

If you suspect you were wrongfully fired, an experienced employment lawyer can help. Call us at 267-273-1054 or email us at murphy@phillyemploymentlawyer.com 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.