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Thursday, April 6, 2017

Can My Employer Terminate Me Without Cause? My Boss Gave Me No Reason Why I Was Fired

Terminated employees often have come to me when their boss terminated them without giving them any reason as to what they did wrong. When this happens, a detailed inquiry is necessary, going back even several years, to determine if the firing was legal or illegal. 

Generally, when a person has a written employment contract, it may stipulate that the employee can only be fired if they did some certain act or acts (such as repeated tardiness, etc.) and if the employee does engage in such act, the employer may terminate the employee “for cause”. But if the employee does not engage in the acts or otherwise violate the contract provisions that trigger the “for cause” termination, the employee’s job is generally secure, absent some illegal act by employee or other bona fide business justification. If an employee is given an employee handbook that stipulates an employee can only be fired for articulated “for cause” reasons, New Jersey Courts have held that these types of clauses are also enforceable when the employee has relied upon them. 

However, if an employee is working without a contract, or is not a member of a union that has a Collective Bargaining Agreement “CBA” that defines the situations in which the employer may sever the employment relationship, the employee is considered to be an “at-will employee” and generally can be fired without cause. The employer is “at-will” to fire the employee at anytime without consequence. 

However, this does NOT MEAN that the firing of an “at-will” employee is necessarily legal and there are numerous instances where the termination may nevertheless be illegal and grounds for an employment lawsuit. By way of example, if the termination is motivated because of the person’s age, race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, LGBT status or perceived LGBT status, religion or pregnancy, the termination is illegal, with few exceptions

I ask a person who finds himself/herself in a situation where he/she is fired without being given a reason, to review all the circumstances of his/her employment with me to determine if anything has changed. I have represented numerous plaintiffs who had steady employment without incident and received good performance evaluations until their supervisor was replaced with a new supervisor. If all of your troubles began when you received a new supervisor, the new supervisor could be biased against certain classes of individuals who are protected from discrimination under the law. 

There are many situations that could trigger your supervisor’s suddenly taking a harder and more critical view of you. For instance, it could be the case that certain facts about you were not initially made known to your employer until you had worked there for a time - by way of example: a white employee has a boss who treats her with respect, until she brings her bi-racial child to work with her one day and the boss’s attitude subsequently changes; or the employer learns that his employee is gay. If the termination was in part motivated by an employers’s illegal bias, it could be a basis for a claim brought under the NJLAD.

If all of your evaluations by a supervisor were good, and then after long-term work for the employer, they are suddenly downgraded, it could be a clue to an illegal bias against you, even when the supervisor is the same supervisor who previously gave you good evaluations. This latter example occurs many times when there is age discrimination in the workplace, and I have successfully represented many such clients and other former employees in lawsuits who were terminated without cause. 

What You Can Do

If you are tied up in knots or scratching your head because your boss fired you without cause, you may have been fired due to discrimination or other illegal reason. To explore your legal options, please contact Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law today for a free consultation.

Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law serves clients throughout New Jersey, including Bergen, Middlesex, Essex, Hudson, Monmouth, Ocean, Union, Camden, Passaic, and Morris Counties with locations in Central, Western and Northern NJ to meet with clients.

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