Pennsylvania is considered an employment-at-will state. This means that employees without contracts may be terminated at any time for any reason the employer deems appropriate to the circumstances. This could include layoffs as well as terminations. The law also gives employees the right to leave their companies at any time with no notice, free from the potential for litigation. Despite the name, no state is complete “at-will” due to the protections offered by the State of Pennsylvania and the federal government.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, even though “at-will” laws allow termination for any or no reason, there are still instances where terminations can be considered illegal. This is largely due to legal precedent, in which the courts determined that the rights of employees were being overshadowed by the rights of their employers. The most consequential exceptions to “at-will” termination include illegal discrimination, retaliation, whistleblowing, and protections for the off-duty actions of an employee. If an employee falls under one of these categories, their actions may be protected by law and their employers could face civil and penal consequences for any actions they take against the protected worker.
The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that certain public policies also provide employers protection from questionable discharge situations. To win a wrongful termination claim based on a public policy violation, a person would have to prove that an important public policy was threatened when the discharge occurred. This can include cases where employees refused to commit a crime, reported a violation of the law, or filed a claim under a state workers’ compensation law. Additionally, cases of implied contracts, where an employer orally promised further employment, may find some protection as well.