Is Pennsylvania an At-Will Employment State?
One of the most common questions our office hears from employees and employers alike is Pennsylvania an at-will employment state?
Like most states across the country, Pennsylvania is considered an “at-will” employment state. This means that in general, an employer can fire an employee at any time and for any reason without recourse by the employee. In the same vein, employees can also quit their job at any time without reason or recourse by their employer.
However, there are exceptions to the rule of at-will employment in Pennsylvania that are important to understand. Our experienced employment law attorneys at Console Mattiacci Law have counseled many clients with questions about at-will employment in Pennsylvania and can provide you with representation for your employment needs.
Discrimination Protection for At-Will Employees
Employees are granted certain protections, even in at-will employment states, from being fired for discriminatory or retaliatory purposes. Federal laws such as the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA), and state laws like the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) provide protections to employees from being fired for reasons related to a protected class. This includes protection from being fired for belonging or being perceived to belong to a certain race, age, religion, national origin, color, sex, or having a disability.
An employer is not allowed to use at-will employment as an excuse to fire a person with a disability, so long as the employee can perform their job responsibilities with reasonable accommodations. An employer also cannot fire an employee for performing a job that the employer believes should be done by the opposite sex or fire an employee because of bias against their religion under the guise of at-will employment doctrine.
Retaliation Protection for At-Will Employees
Employees are also protected from being fired in at-will employment states, including Pennsylvania, for exercising their rights under anti-discrimination laws, or for participating in an investigation into allegations of wrongdoing against their employer. At-will employment cannot be used to justify firing employees who participate in the following actions:
- Filing a workers’ compensation claim
- Requesting reasonable accommodation for a disability
- Making a wage or hour claim under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) or Pennsylvania wage and hour laws
- Communicating with fellow employees about work-related issues or forming a union
- Reporting potential regulatory violations by the employer to the proper state or federal agency
- Taking family/maternity/paternity leave
- Filing a complaint about discrimination or sexual harassment in the workplace
Other Protections for At-Will Employees
The Pennsylvania courts have found other instances where at-will employment doctrine does not apply to the firing of employees. Dismissal of at-will employees is illegal when the basis of the termination is founded in any of the following situations:
- An employee refuses to participate in an illegal activity requested by the employer
- An employee refuses to take a lie detector test
- An employee reports illegal activity
- An employee is refused employment or fired for a past conviction of a crime that is unrelated to the current job requirements
- An employee is required to participate in a public duty, such as jury duty
- An employee reports or threatens to report safety violations in the workplace
- An employee refuses a random drug test or property search that violates their right to privacy
- An employee testifies against a supervisor or employer
These are only a few of the situations where at-will employees in Pennsylvania are also protected from being terminated by their employers.
Contract Exceptions to At-Will Employment
Another major exception to at-will employment – Pennsylvania employers and employees can alter at-will employment through the use of employment contracts. These contracts supersede at-will employment through the dictation of terms and conditions regarding employment. This can include the length of time of the job, position responsibilities, timelines and deadlines for tasks or projects, and any terms that may lead to the dismissal of the employee under the terms of the contract.
Collective bargaining agreements are another form of employment contract, which unions undertake with employers on behalf of many employees that belong to that union.
It is important to note that even with employment contracts, employers cannot force employees to sign away their rights to be free from discriminatory or retaliatory actions in the workplace. A condition of employment or continued employment cannot be that the employee agrees to be banned from making complaints about discrimination in the workplace based on their protected class. The same applies to conditions of employment that pertain to disability status, maternity leave, or any other federal or state protected right.
Call Our Office Today
If you have questions about Pennsylvania at-will employment law, our office is able to help. Call our office at 215-545-7676 or contact us today to speak with one of our experienced employment law attorneys at Console Mattiacci Law about your employment needs.