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When Is It Legal to Be Fired?

January 2021

When can I be fired?

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

¿Cuándo me pueden despedir del trabajo?

La mayoría de los empleos son voluntarios. Eso quiere decir que su empleador le puede despedir en cualquier momento y por cualquier razón, a menos que la razón por la que le despidió sea ilegal.

When is it illegal to be fired?

It is illegal to fire someone for

  • taking time off for family or medical leave as allowed by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA);
  • reporting illegal activities at work, such as discrimination or health and safety violations;
  • applying for workers’ compensation;
  • refusing to work under dangerous conditions; or
  • being a victim of family violence.

It is also illegal to fire someone because of their

  • race/color, national origin, religion;
  • gender, gender identity, marital status, sexual orientation;
  • age, pregnancy, or disability.

Example: A white employee arrives late to work and is warned not to do it again, while a black worker arrives late and is fired. The firing may be illegal discrimination.

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 (or good cause) to fire you. Talk to your union representative.

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

Example: If your handbook says a person gets three warnings 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

  • warnings and work evaluations,
  • changes in your pay,
  • the 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 wrong 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 Discrimination Cases
Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

Help for Family and Medical Leave Cases
CT Department of Labor

U.S. Department of Labor

Get Help From Legal Aid

Age 60+: Get help from legal aid.
Under age 60: Find legal help or apply online.
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