There is a lot of confusion about when and why employers are allowed to fire their employees. From the employee’s side, most employees believe (incorrectly) that if an employer can’t prove that the employee did something “wrong,” then the employer is not allowed to fire them. From the employer’s side, most employers aren’t quite sure when they can fire employees, so many employers are tempted to shade the truth and shift from the “real” reason for the termination to a reason that sounds less questionable.
No wonder employees and employers often don’t see eye to eye when employment comes to an end.
Here’s the scoop. Employers are legally allowed to fire most employees any time they want, for any reason they want. That means that even when an employer can’t prove that a cashier stole the money that was missing from the register, or even when the technician who wrecked the company truck swears it was the other driver’s fault, the employer can decide to fire the employee. An employer is entitled to decide whether its employees are contributing to the business in the way the employer needs, or whether they are not. Just as an employee can quit whenever they want (bored, better job, unreasonable supervisor), a company can fire an employee whenever it wants (poor performance, poor attendance, the boss’s son needs a job and it happens to be yours).
So, when is a termination “wrongful”? An employer can’t fire an employee for an “illegal” reason. Which reasons are illegal? Ah, there’s the rub. Here’s just a partial list of reasons an employer can’t fire an employee: (1) discrimination – firing employees because of their protected characteristics, such as race, sex, national origin, disability, and age; (2) concerted activity – firing employees because they discussed their wages or other conditions of employees with co-workers; (3) overtime pay retaliation – firing employees because they complained about not being paid overtime wages; and (4) in violation of Maryland public policy – firing employees for a reason that the State of Maryland says is protected as a matter of public policy. One example is firing employees for refusing to do something that might be a violation of Maryland law, such as firing an apartment manager for refusing to go into a tenant’s apartment and go through the tenant’s private papers.
Navigating the world of wrongful termination is complicated and having an experienced navigator on board is crucial. At Luchansky Millman, we guide clients through the jumble of laws of employment termination, we solve issues when questions arise about wrongful termination, and we advocate for clients who are involved in a dispute over the termination of employment.