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Employment at Will

What Is Employment at Will?

Employment At WillAs our New Jersey employment lawyers can explain to you, employment at will is the principle that you can be fired from your job for virtually any reason, or even for no reason at all. It is the default rule in most states, including both New Jersey and New York. But, while employment at will might sound harsh, there are many important exceptions that could give you legal protection if you are fired unfairly.

What Are They Key Exceptions to Employment at Will?

There are many exceptions to employment at will. In fact, there are too many exceptions to list them all here. However, we have summarized some of the most important exceptions in New Jersey and New York below. For more information, please contact one of our New Jersey employment law attorneys at (201) 777-2250.

Employment Contracts

Perhaps the simplest exception to employment at will is an employment contract that either guarantees you a job for a specific period or limits the company’s right to fire you. Examples include a one-year guaranteed contract, or a contract that states you can be fired only for “cause.”

Wrongful Termination Claims

Further, there are many wrongful termination laws that limit your employer’s right to fire you. For example, state and federal anti-discrimination laws make it illegal for companies to fire their employees because of their age, race, color, national origin, disability, gender, marital status, pregnancy, sexual orientation, religion, ancestry, or veteran and military status.

In addition, numerous laws such as the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("LAD"), the Conscientious Employee Protection Act ("CEPA"), the Family & Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") and the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") protect employees from retaliation when they object to something they reasonably believe violates the law.

Likewise, the United States Constitution protects employees who work for the state and local government from being fired because they exercised their Constitutional rights, such as the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Severance Pay

Many company policies, as well as some individual employment contracts, guarantee employees the right to receive severance pay under specific circumstances. For example, it is common to provide severance pay to employees who are laid off or subject to a reduction in force. This is a partial exception to employment at will since it could provide you some financial protection if you are fired for no good reason.

Similarly, laws like the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification ("WARN") Act and New Jersey's Millville Dallas Airmotive Plant Job Loss Notification Act ("commonly known as the New Jersey WARN Act) provide similar protection to some employees by guaranteeing them advance notice before certain mass layoffs and reductions in force, as well as severance pay after they lose their jobs as a result.

Specific Categories of Employees

In addition, there are entire categories of employees who are not employees at will. This includes civil service employees who are protected by civil service law, and union members who are protected by a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") and labor laws like the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA").

Employment At Will is a Two Way Street

While employment at will certainly has significant downside for workers, in New York and New Jersey it works in both directions. In other words, there not only is a presumption that your company can fire you for almost any reason, but also a presumption that you can quit your job for any reason, or for no reason, with or without giving your employer any advance notice.

Accordingly, while it is customary to give two weeks’ notice when you resign, there is no legal requirement that you do so. Of course, it usually is a good idea to give your employer at least one or two weeks’ notice before you resign, especially if you are trying to be fair, want to leave your job on good terms, or might want a job reference from it in the future.

Rabner Baumgart Ben-Asher & Nirenberg, P.C. Can Help

If you are an employee at will and have been fired in New Jersey or New York, we can evaluate whether your legal rights have been violated. Please contact us at (201) 777-2250 to schedule a meeting with one of our New Jersey employment law attorneys.

Client Reviews
"I worked with Jonathan Nirenberg, ESQ on a sensitive emotional employment matter. Mr. Nirenberg was quick to respond, offered excellent advice, and always followed up with phone calls or emails when needed. My situation was settled out of court within a short period of time with the best possible results for not just me but also for the employer. Highly recommend and would seek his help again if needed..." Linda Busch, PhD
"We've had the pleasure of working with Jonathan on multiple individual and class employment cases. Jonathan is a skilled, dedicated and caring attorney that works diligently to bring justice for his clients. We would recommend Jonathan as a legal resource for any employment cases." Stephan Zouras, LLP
"I felt alone and without a voice, until I hired Jonathan I. Nirenberg of Rabner Baumgart Ben-Asher & Nirenberg, P.C. Mr. Nirenberg represented me in an employment matter. Without his help, I know that I would not have had the extremely successful outcome I had. Jonathan was not only professional, but very empathetic to what happened to me. Jonathan gave me support, and options in relation to a challenging employer/employment situation which was an extremely difficult time in my life..." Shelly Smith