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At-will employees: when your boss isn't allowed to fire you

"At-will employment" means that an employer may fire an employee at their own discretion and for virtually any reason. The termination can be without warning, and the employer is not required by law to pay severance to the employee.

Most Texas employees are presumed to be at-will employees. This means that, theoretically, if your boss doesn't like your shoes, they can fire you.

While it may seem that such an arrangement leaves employees in an unfairly vulnerable position, there are certain exceptions to this carte-blanche termination policy. In today's post, we outline some of the basic employee protections from wrongful termination:

Discrimination

Your employer may not fire you for any discriminatory reason connected to your:

  • Age (if you're 40 or over),
  • Race,
  • Ethnicity,
  • National origin,
  • Disability or
  • Religion.

Public policy

Your employer may not fire you for any reason that violates local or federal statutes or policies. For instance, if you're injured on the job and file a workers' compensation claim, your employer can't fire you for this--due to workers' compensation laws that protect employees from retaliation. In addition, you can't get fired for refusing to do something illegal for your employer--or for reporting illegal activity within your company.

Unique employment agreement

If you have an employment contract which explicitly states that you can only be fired with good cause, then you are not an at-will employee. Your employer must provide reasonable justification for your termination.

Even if you don't have a written employment agreement, verbal assurances can also indicate whether or not your employment is at-will. For instances, if your boss regularly tells you that your job is secure as long as you keep up the great work, then this could be used as an indication that you are not an at-will employee--and you could sue if you're fired for the wrong reasons.

If you believe your termination was unlawful, it's worth consulting with an experienced employment law attorney about your case. You may be eligible to seek restitution.

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