When Is It Legal to Be Fired?

This article was produced by CLS, GHLA, NHLAA, and SLS.

When Is It Legal to Be Fired?

When can I be fired?

Most jobs are at will. That means your employer can fire you at any time, for any reason—unless the reason you are fired is illegal.

When is it illegal to be fired?

It is illegal to fire an at will employee because of

  • discrimination, or
  • retaliation (punishment) for doing something you have the right to do.

It is illegal discrimination to fire you because of your

  • race, religion, national origin, color;
  • gender, pregnancy;
  • sexual orientation, gender identity; or
  • any kind of disability.


A white employee arrives late to work and is warned not to do it again, but a black worker arrives late and is fired. The firing may be illegal discrimination. It is also illegal to fire you in retaliation because you complained about discrimination or did something you have the legal right to do.

Are there other situations when it is illegal to fire an employee?

Yes. You cannot be fired if you

  • take time off for family or medical leave as allowed by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA);
  • report illegal activities at work, such as health and safety violations or discrimination;
  • apply for worker’s compensation;
  • refuse to work under dangerous conditions; or
  • go to a court hearing because you (or a relative) need a restraining order or are a victim of a crime.

Do I have other protections against getting fired?

If you are a union member:

Your contract may give you extra protections. Most union contracts say the employer must have a very good reason (cause) to fire you. Talk to your union representative.

If you have a contract or workplace rules:

If your firing goes against a written contract, handbook, or set of rules (even if the rules are not in writing), the firing could be illegal.

Example: If your handbook says a person gets three warnings before being fired, but you are fired after the first warning, the firing may be illegal.

What can I do if I think I'm going to be fired?

Make notes about important things at work, including

  • meetings with your supervisor, and
  • comments you hear or things done during your work day that may affect your job.

Keep copies of important papers, including

  • work evaluations,
  • changes in your salary,
  • employee handbook or other written rules, and
  • emails or anything in writing from your employer.

Ask for a copy of your personnel file. If it has incorrect information, write down the correct information and ask them to put your statement in the file.

If your employer asks to meet with you, you have the right to bring someone with you to the meeting.

If you are fired because of discrimination or retaliation:

Get legal help from a lawyer, your union, or one of the agencies below. They can give you advice, information and help filing a complaint, but contact them soon. Most discrimination and retaliation cases must be filed within 180 days.

Tip: The longer you wait, the harder it may be to find documents that support your case and witnesses who remember what happened.

Help for People with Low Income

Statewide Legal Services
Central Connecticut:

Other areas of Connecticut:

Help for Discrimination Cases

Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities (CHRO)

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

Help for Family and Medical Leave Cases

CT Department of Labor

U.S. Department of Labor

For more information, contact:

Statewide Legal Services: 860-344-0380 (Central CT & Middletown) or 1-800-453-3320 (all other regions).

For people over 60, click here to get help from legal aid.

Not from Connecticut?

Most of the information on this web site is for Connecticut residents only.
Visit LawHelp.org to find a legal services program and/or a legal information web site in your area.