Question: Can an employer terminate your employment for any reason? I was a supervisor for five years. I recently received an increase in pay and all of my performance reviews were excellent. My company even hired an additional employee into my group. Our business has been very busy and our company is growing. I am shocked beyond belief. My direct boss gave all sorts of very confusing reasons why it was happening. He stated I was an “employee at will?” Do I have any grounds for a wrongful termination?
Answer: I am sorry that you were terminated. Terminations are never easy but when they are a surprise, the terminated employee is often left feeling angry and confused. Many managers have never received formal training and/or coaching around how to terminate an employee. Terminating an employee is challenging, even for the most experienced managers. It is often a responsibility that is dreaded and one of the most difficult management decisions.
Most managers benefit by working with an HR professional to plan the termination. I am not certain what happened in your individual situation. Some companies offer outplacement too. Outplacement is a service (typically paid for by your former employer) that assists the terminated employee with the transition to a new opportunity. A strong outplacement offering can help an employee move beyond the feelings of anger, and instead focus on the future. Most outplacement benefits assist the former employee with writing or editing a resume, how to interview successfully, developing a robust professional network, as well as how to negotiate job offers.
Finally, most, but not all, employees can be terminated at any time. “At-will” means that you did not have an employment contract with your former employer. Around 75% of all employees are “at will” employees. In layperson’s terms, this means that you can be terminated at any time, but also you can leave your employer at any time. Further, your employer does not have to provide you with a reason for termination. It is a good practice to provide an explanation to an employee but it is not legally required.
Any employee can sue their employer (or anyone else). However, you will have to prove that your employer violated one or more of your rights and/or discriminated against you. Based on my limited knowledge about your particular situation, it is difficult for me to assess whether you have a strong case for successful wrongful termination suit. It may be worth discussing your situation in more detail with an employment attorney.
Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.