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Reasons That At-Will Employees Can and Cannot be Fired in New Jersey

The majority of New Jersey workers are at-will employees, which simply means they are not under contract with the company they work for. They remain employed for only as long as their employer decides they are needed. An employer doesn’t need to have a justification for terminating them. However, there are laws protecting at-will employees from being fired for discriminatory reasons or for reasons that violate public policy.

Employers have the authority to adjust staffing based on multiple factors. Termination of at-will employees may be for cause or due to changes in the company’s economic circumstances. The following are the most common reasons for discharge:

  • Performance issues — Failing to fulfill job duties on schedule or up to standards can lead to dismissal, although employees are typically first given the opportunity to improve. Termination usually occurs if an employee proves unable to do the job competently and safely, even with training and supervision. Exceeding allowed absences can also be a fireable offense.
  • Behavioral problems — Refusal to get along with others in the workplace frequent can be a reason for discharge. This may include insubordination, inappropriate conduct, unruly interactions with colleagues or customers and other violations of the company’s behavioral standards.
  • Crimes or policy violations — Theft, embezzlement or another crime involving the company or its employees is usually a fireable offense, as is divulging confidential information to outsiders. An employee can also be fired for failing a drug test if the workplace has a drug-free policy.
  • Workforce reductions — At-will employees are vulnerable to dismissal due to company downsizing, seasonal fluctuations and changes in operations. However, mass layoffs of employees must comply with the notice and disclosure requirements of the NJ WARN Act.

Although employers have significant latitude, at-will employees are protected by state and federal laws against termination for the following reasons:

  • Discrimination — The federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination prohibit dismissal for reasons related to an employee’s personal characteristics such as race, gender, religion, age, disability and sexual orientation. 
  • Refusal to violate the law — If an employer asks an employee to engage in illegal activity and they refuse, they can’t be terminated on that basis. The same is true if an employee refuses to participate in actions that violate public safety or health laws.
  • Retaliation — An employee cannot be fired for whistleblowing, that is, notifying authorities about illegal or unsafe activities within the organization. Nor can an employee be fired for cooperating in an investigation of alleged illegal activities.

If you are discharged from your job, an employment attorney can assess whether you suffered a wrongful termination. If so, you may be entitled to recover compensation for lost wages along with other damages and your legal fees for bringing a lawsuit.

Deutsch Atkins & Kleinfeldt, P.C. in Hackensack provides aggressive representation for workers enforcing their rights under New Jersey and federal law. Call us at 551-245-8894 or contact us online to schedule a confidential consultation.

Neil  H.  Deutsch Attorney Photo
Neil H. Deutsch

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 his…

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Bruce L. Atkins
Senior Partner

Bruce L. Atkins is the Senior Managing Partner at Deutsch Atkins & Kleinfeldt P.C., a prominent plaintiff employment law firm in the tri-state area. Mr. Atkins believes employees’ rights should be aggressively pursued when they’ve been wrongfully dealt with by their employers. He brings this philosophy to his practice when considering each case and its…

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Adam J. Kleinfeldt

Adam J. Kleinfeldt joined Deutsch Atkins & Kleinfeldt, P.C. in March of 2015.  He primarily represents individuals in employment litigation 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 his clients, including a $525,000 jury verdict in a sexual…

Debra M. McGarvey Attorney Photo
Debra M. McGarvey

Debra M. McGarvey joined Deutsch Atkins & Kleinfeldt, P.C. in December 2019. She has extensive experience defending employees and employers in state and federal court in employment litigation matters. She has represented clients on various issues arising out of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA), the…

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Carly Skarbnik Meredith

Carly Skarbnik Meredith, Esq. is a Partner at the firm. Carly has focused her career exclusively in the field of employment law. She has a plethora of experience representing both employees and employers with their employment issues, needs, and concerns. She believes representing both employees and employers has made her an extremely well-rounded client advocate.…


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