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Understanding the law of wrongful termination

On Behalf of | Dec 7, 2021 | Employment Law (Employee)

Pennsylvania is known as an “at will” employment state. This means that, in the absence of a written employment contract signed by both parties, the relationship between an employer and an employee exists at the will of the each of the parties; the employer can fire the employee at any time with or without a valid reason, and the employee can quit the job at any time for any reason. The at-will rule has one major exception: wrongful termination. Neither an employer nor an employee can sever an at will employment relationship for an improper or illegal reason.

What factors make a termination “illegal” or “wrongful”?

The termination of an employment relationship is wrongful if the reasons behind the action violate a law or an important public policy. The most obvious examples are terminations based upon race or gender. The list of potential wrongful reasons for an illegal discharge is very long. A few examples provide a useful list of wrongful reasons:

  • Violation of federal employment discrimination laws;
  • Violation of state public policy;
  • Taking time of work to vote or serve on a juror
  • Retaliation against an employee for participating in a legally protected activity; or
  • Filing a workers’ compensation claim.

Statutory definition of wrongful

Pennsylvania statutes define a number of wrongful reasons for an at will termination:

  • Gender
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Age, if the employee is older than 40
  • Pregnancy or other family leave status

The employee’s remedy

An employee who has been wrongfully discharge can sue the former employer for

  • Lost income
  • Emotional distress
  • Reinstatement
  • Injunctive relief; or
  • Any other appropriate relief.


Anyone who feels that he or she has been wrongfully terminated may wish to consult an experienced employment lawyer for an evaluation of the facts and for an opinion as to whether a wrongful discharge claim is likely to succeed.