Get A Lawyer’s Counsel On “At-Will” Employee Rights
New Hampshire employees who do not have contracts for a period of time and who are not in a union are “at-will” employees. That means the employee can be fired at any time for any reason, but there are two exceptions to this rule.
First, an at-will employee cannot be fired for a discriminatory reason. In other words, an employer cannot fire someone because of their age, sex, race, color, marital status, physical or mental disability, religious creed, national origin or sexual orientation. This law is codified by the Legislature in New Hampshire R.S.A. 354-A:7.
Second, an at-will employee cannot be fired for a “wrongful” reason. A wrongful termination occurs when an employee does something that the public encourages employees to do (report a theft to their boss), or when the employee does not do something that the public would discourage (refuse a boss’s instruction to steal documents from a competitor). A wrongful termination also requires the employer to demonstrate some level of “bad faith, malice or retaliation” toward the employee. This law has been developed by New Hampshire judges since 1974 to protect at-will employees and improve our economic system.
These laws are not limited just to the termination of one’s employment. At-will employees cannot be “forced out” of their jobs, demoted or afforded different pay or benefits for discriminatory or wrongful reasons.
There are many things an employer can do to avoid lawsuits by former employees. There are also remedies for employees who have been unlawfully fired. If you need legal advice in an employment scenario such as this or in any other employment matter, you should consult with an attorney.
Philip L. Pettis is a partner with the law firm of Boynton, Waldron, Doleac, Woodman & Scott, P.A. in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Phil has been practicing law for 15 years, and he has successfully represented employers and employees in many types of employment disputes. He also handles a variety of other cases.