When an employee is a so-called “at will” employee, the employee does not have a contract of employment. In New Jersey, such an employee can be discharged at the wish of the employer for any reason or for no reason. In fact, the employee can be discharged for a false cause, or for no cause at all.
The employer, however, is not allowed to discharge the employee for any reason that violates any clear mandate of public policy. In other words, a person fired unfairly, but not fired in violation of a specific public policy, does not have a cause of action for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy.
In wrongful discharge cases in New Jersey, the Plaintiff alleges that he or she was wrongfully discharged from his/her position in violation of public policy. If the case goes to trial, the jury must decide whether the plaintiff was discharged:
- in violation of that policy; or
- for exercising rights protected by that policy; or
- for declining to perform an act or acts which require a violation of that policy.
The employer will often try to show that the employee was not discharged for a reason related to that policy.
Attorneys for Wrongful Discharge in New Jersey
The employment law attorneys in New Jersey at Console Mattiacci Law, LLC represent clients in wrongful discharge cases. Many of these claims are brought under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA), and the New Jersey Family Leave Act (FLA).
These cases involve showing that the employer's unlawful motive was a determinative factor or the sole motivating factor in the adverse employment decision.
Contact us to discuss any common-law wrongful discharge claims in New Jersey. With offices in Moorestown, NJ, our employment lawyers represent clients throughout the state. Call 215-545-7676 for a free consultation.
Procedures in a Wrongful Termination Case in New Jersey
In order to establish that the plaintiff was discharged in violation of a public policy, it must be shown by a preponderance of the evidence that the plaintiff’s discharge violated a specified public policy. If the plaintiff does not prove this, the jury does not need not consider whether the plaintiff’s discharge was wrongful.
If the plaintiff does prove that his/her discharge violated the specified public policy, then the jury must consider whether a determinative factor for his/her discharge was a violation of the specified public policy, and not some other reason asserted by the defendant.
In order to establish that plaintiff was discharged for exercising rights under the specified public policy or for declining to perform an act or acts which require a violation of the specified public policy, the jury must determine whether the plaintiff has proved by a preponderance of the evidence that he/she:
- had a reasonable basis for believing defendant engaged in a violation of the stated public policy; and
- brought the alleged violation of the stated public police to the attention of an appropriate governmental outside authority or took other action reasonably calculated to prevent the objectionable conduct.
Plaintiff must prove that he/she sufficiently expressed his/her disagreement with defendant’s conduct that was alleged to be in violation of public policy to support the conclusion that his/her discharge violates the mandate of public policy and is unlawful.
That is to say, a complaint to an outside agency or a direct complaint to senior corporate management will ordinarily be sufficient. On the other hand, a complaint to an immediate supervisor or passing remarks to co-workers generally will not.
It is the plaintiff’s obligation to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that his/her alleged adverse action in question (such as demotion, firing, etc.) violated a clear mandate of public policy.
The Standard Jury Instruction in New Jersey for Common Law Employment Claims in Charge 2.11 are for the wrongful discharge in violation of a clear mandate of public police. The jury instructions were last revised on 7/10.
This article was last updated on Monday, May 21, 2018.
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