In Connecticut, employees who do not have a contract spelling out the duration of their employment are considered “at-will” employees. In an at-will employment relationship, either party (the employer or the employee) may terminate the employment whenever they choose, for any reason or no reason at all. Of course, both federal and state laws protect employees from discrimination, including termination, based on gender, race, age, religion, national origin, disability, and sexual orientation, among other things.
However, in limited circumstances, an at-will employee may be able to sue his or her employer for wrongful discharge even without a case of discrimination if the discharge is against public policy, or if the employee can prove that there was an implied employment contract.
The Public Policy Exception
Under the public policy exception, an employee can bring an action for wrongful termination if his or her discharge is contrary to a clear public policy, and the court (rather than a jury) must determine at the outset whether an important public policy is at issue in the case. Such public policy may be found in constitutional provisions, statutes or in judicially conceived notions. These would include prohibitions against firing an employee for filing a claim for unemployment benefits, filing a wage enforcement claim, and exercising federal or state constitutional rights, such as religious or free speech rights.
Although courts construe this exception narrowly, some have, for example, held that an employee may maintain an action for wrongful discharge where the plaintiff alleged that he was fired for refusing to participate in a scheme to defraud the government in violation of a federal statute, or was fired for reporting that a supervisor had sold alcohol to a minor in violation of a state statue.
Connecticut courts also recognize a cause of action for wrongful termination based on an implied employment contract. To prevail on such a claim, the employee must prove that the employer agreed, through words or actions, not to terminate the employee without just cause. This exception, too, is narrowly construed. Such claims have arisen where an employee manual was distributed to the now discharged employee that contained language concerning job security (e.g., that the employee could not be discharged without just cause) that he or she relied upon in deciding to remain with his employer.
If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated, contact one of the experienced employment law attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. to discuss your legal remedies today. An attorney may be reached at 203-221-3100 or by emailing Ask@mayalaw.com.