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Does at-will employment prevent a wrongful termination lawsuit?

On Behalf of | Jul 6, 2023 | Employment Law

Rhode Island is one of many states that has a rule that renders most employment arrangements at-will agreements. In other words, either party has the option of ending an employment agreement at any time and for just about any reason they think of or without a specified reason. Notice is often given as a courtesy but is not a requirement unless an employment contract imposes such obligations on either party.

This law prevents employers from taking former workers to court for leaving the company in a lurch and reduces the scenarios in which employees can file a lawful claim against the company for the loss of their jobs. However, there is always room for interpretation within the law, and many people dismiss that nuance when making broad statements about wrongful termination cases in Rhode Island.

Can workers take action if a company violates their rights when firing them?

Not all terminations are lawful

Although a company can potentially fire a worker without any explanation, most terminated workers expect a reasonable answer about why they’ve lost their jobs. Sometimes, companies will hide behind at-will employment statutes and try to obfuscate the nature of what was very likely a wrongful termination.

Employers still need to comply with both state and federal laws regarding how they treat their workers and how they make major decisions about staff. If a worker can establish that a business considered their sex, race, age, religion or other characteristics protected by federal or Rhode Island state law when choosing to fire them, the employee may have a valid claim for wrongful termination.

Additionally, if workers can show that the decision was likely retaliation, perhaps because they requested unpaid leave or reported harassment, they can potentially hold their employer accountable for firing them for an unlawful reason. A wrongful termination lawsuit can sometimes result in someone getting their job back or financial compensation to diminish the impact of lost wages and a career setback caused by someone’s sudden termination.

Discussing what happened leading up to someone’s termination with a legal professional may help them explore whether they have grounds to file a claim against their employer.