When Is It Legal to Be Fired?

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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.

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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 or 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 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 your relative) needs a restraining order or are a crime victim.

Do I have other protection 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 3 warnings before being fired, but you are fired after the 1st problem, the firing may be illegal.

What can I do if I think I am 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
  • 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 to the meeting with you.

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 witnesses who remember what happened and documents that support your case.

Help for Discrimination Cases

Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities

U.S. Equal Employment Opportuntiy Commission, (EEOC)

Help for Family/Medical Leave Cases

CT Department of Labor

U.S. Department of Labor

This information is based on laws in Connecticut as of May 2015. It is not intended as legal advice for an individual situation. Please call Statewide Legal Services or contact an attorney for additional help. Produced by Legal Assistance Resource Center of CT.

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.