Georgia’s At-Will Employment Doctrine
At-will employment in Georgia is a two-way street. Employees who become dissatisfied with their job have the freedom to resign their position at any time for any reason or no reason whatsoever. Less popular with employees is the corollary that an employer who becomes dissatisfied with an employee can, with certain exceptions, terminate the employee at any time for any reason or no reason whatsoever.
Most employees in the U.S. are at-will employees. Some states like California and New Jersey have more protective laws than many states in the southeast, including Georgia. Employees working in at-will states with little state law protection may believe they have no legal rights at all, but there are federal laws that may offer protection and allow for compensation or even job restoration in certain circumstances.
To make a case for illegal termination in Georgia, you must be able to prove that your employer violated a federal or state employment law. Legal recourse for termination may be available if the termination is related to one or more of the following:
- Discrimination because of a federally protected characteristic (for example, race, age, gender, national origin, religion, disability, or pregnancy)
- Workplace safety (OSHA)
- Qualified leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
- Personal leave related to an employee’s health or medical condition
- Reporting violations of any law with an anti-retaliation provision
- Union activity
- Immigration status
Employees who work for the government may be entitled to a grievance procedure that allows them to appeal an adverse employment action. Similarly, school teachers or other merit system employees may be able to appeal an adverse employment action though the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) appeal process.
Can My Employer Really Fire Me Without A Reason?
In an at-will state, employers really can terminate for any reason that is outside the scope of legal protections such as those described above. The reason for termination doesn’t have to be a good reason, a legitimate reason, or a rational reason. For example, an employee may be terminated simply because the employer does not like the way the employee dresses, does not like the team the employee roots for, or does not like the fact that the employee did not agree with an opinion. When this is the case, the employee’s good work history and long tenure with the company may have no bearing.
Employment laws are complex and can be especially confusing when trying to determine whether an employer is within his or her legal right to terminate. One way to know for certain whether your termination was legal is by talking with a Georgia employment attorney who understands both federal and state employment law exceptions to the at-will doctrine. If you believe your termination was not legal, an attorney with Barrett & Farahany will be happy to talk with you and help determine whether your employee rights were violated.