Your rights as an employee depend in large part on what type of employee you are. You may be an at-will employee, a contract employee or a government employee. All employees have at least some basic rights under the law. Specifically, all employees, whether at-will, contract, or government, have the right to be free from termination based on discrimination. Discrimination includes employment decisions based on age, disability, gender, race, religion, pregnancy or national origin.
Various federal laws protect employees in the United States. Those federal laws provide specific reasons for which employees cannot be fired. For example, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, an employer violates federal law if the employer fires you because you are disabled. This is illegal discrimination. Other illegal discrimination includes decisions based on race, colour, religion, national origin, gender, pregnancy or age.
Different Types of Employment
A contract employee is somebody who is working under a signed, written contract that specifies the details of the employment relationship. A government employee is somebody who works for either the federal, state or local government. Anybody else is basically an at-will employee.
Termination In Breach of Contract
If you have an employment contract and you are terminated in violation of that contract then you may be entitled to money damages or reinstatement. All employment contracts differ, and you will have to review your own contract to determine what a violation is. For example, if you are hired to work as an engineer on a project for two years at the rate of £32,500 per year, and you are terminated after only one year, you can sue the employer for the £32,500 that you would have earned had you not been fired in violation of the employment contract.
Government employees can be terminated, but it is generally more difficult than for at-will employees. A government job is considered by law to be a private property interest, and under the U.S. Constitution the government cannot take away your private property interest without giving you notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard (referred to in the Constitution as "due process"). So you can be fired, but only after you have a chance to tell your side of the story to an impartial decision maker, such as a supervisor or panel of co-workers.
An at-will employee can be fired for no reason or for any reason, as long as the reason is not illegal. Generally, an an employer can fire an employee for economic reasons or for personal reasons. Your boss may, for example, fire you because you are not a good friend to your boss. Because the law does not prohibit firing based on a lack of friendship, you have no legal rights if you are fired for that reason. Similarly, because the law does not prohibit termination based on economic considerations, such as you being an unprofitable employee, you have no legal rights if you are fired for economic reasons.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
If you have been terminated and you think your employer may have illegally discriminated against you then you should consider consulting with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC is a federal agency that enforces the anti-discrimination laws in the United States.