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What Does Employment-at-Will Actually Mean?

Most states follow the common law doctrine of employment-at-will. This rule essentially states that, absent a contract to the contrary, an employee serves at the pleasure of his or her employer and can be terminated for any or no reason. Fortunately, while still in effect in most U.S. states, the doctrine of employment-at-will has been seriously limited by legislation.

Employers who insist upon taking employment-at-will literally soon find out that it is not as expansive as it sounds. Several federal and state statutes establish that it is illegal to terminate employees for certain reasons:

  • The Civil Rights Acts prohibits employees from being terminated for discriminatory reasons based on race, religion, creed, color, national origin or gender. It also prevents employers from firing employees for complaining about or participating in the investigation of such discriminatory conduct.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits an employer from firing an employee because he or she is disabled, provided the employee is still able to perform the essential functions of the job either with or without reasonable accommodation.
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits employees over the age of 40 from being fired because of their ages.
  • The Sarbanes-Oxley Act prohibits employers from firing employees who report fraudulent or illegal company practices to supervisors or outside regulators.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Act prevents employers from firing employees for reporting safety violations.
  • The National Labor Relations Act prevents employers from firing employees for engaging in concerted activity regarding work conditions.
  • The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination prohibits retaliatory discharge against employees who file or participate in complaints regarding discrimination.
  • The New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act prohibits employers from firing employees for reporting, providing information regarding, objecting to or refusing to participate in any conduct that is criminal, fraudulent or in violation of law or regulation.

If you have suffered retaliation for any of these reasons, a New Jersey employment law attorney may be able to help.

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Neil  H.  Deutsch Attorney Photo
Neil H. Deutsch
Senior Partner

About Neil H. Deutsch has been practicing law for over 35 years and is known as a skilled negotiator in employment and discrimination law. He believes in a bottom-line approach of risk analysis and cost effectiveness for his clients. "Case evaluation is something we take seriously," says Mr. Deutsch who seeks top net dollar for…

Bruce  L.  Atkins Attorney Photo
Bruce L. Atkins
Senior Partner

About Bruce L. Atkins is regarded as one of New Jersey's premiere practitioners of employment and civil litigation. Mr. Atkins has also been included in the Thomson Reuters list of New Jersey Super Lawyers* in Employment Litigation since 2005. Mr. Atkins believes employees have rights that should be aggressively pursued when an employer has wrongfully dealt…

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Adam J. Kleinfeldt
Partner

About Adam J. Kleinfeldt joined Deutsch Atkins, P.C. in March of 2015.  He primarily represents individuals in employment litigations such as discrimination, retaliation, and whistle blowing matters.  He has extensive experience in all phases of the litigation process. Adam has obtained significant results for some of his clients, including a $525,000 jury verdict in a…

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Robert J. Pantina
Attorney

About Robert J. Pantina joined the firm in 2018. Mr. Pantina received his B.A. from Rider University in 2008. He received his J.D. from the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University in 2017. While in law school, Mr. Pantina interned for the Hon. Bonnie J. Mizdol, Assignment Judge of the Superior Court of…

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Diane Englander Peyser
Attorney

About Diane Englander Peyser joined Deutsch Atkins, PC in September 2018 where she represents employees in wrongful termination, retaliation, harassment, and discrimination matters. Prior to joining Deutsch Atkins, PC, Diane represented clients in all aspects of employment law on behalf of employees involving unemployment appeals, claims of sexual harassment, LGBT discrimination, disability discrimination, FMLA, New…

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