Apr 26 2023
Amanda DeMatteis: Hi, Josh.
Josh Goodbaum: Hi, Amanda. What are we talking about today?
DeMatteis: I thought we’d talk about an employee who’s been working for a company for a couple of years. Everything seems to be going along just fine – positive performance reviews and appraisals – and then one day, seemingly out of the blue, their boss gives them that tap on the shoulder and says, “Hey, look, it’s just not a good fit. This isn’t working out anymore. You’re terminated.” What do you tell that person?
Goodbaum: I start by saying, “I’m sorry. This is really unfortunate and really unfair. It would be great if all of the decisions that our employers and managers made were well-reasoned and well-thought-out. But that’s not the system we have. In Connecticut, and in 48 other states, we have at-will employment, which means you can be terminated at any time, for any reason, or no reason at all, so long as it is not an unlawful one.”
So I might start by asking that employee:
- Do you have a sense of anything that might be unlawful?
- Have you recently developed a medical condition?
- Has your boss changed?
- Are you a lot older than you were when you came to work there?
- Have you disclosed that you have a family member who has a disability?
- Have you engaged in protected activity?
- Have you made a complaint about your compensation?
There’s a long list of things we can talk about, but assuming the employee says, “No, I don’t think it’s any of that. I just think they changed their mind,” then I would say that I don’t think there’s anything the law can do to help you as it currently exists. And that’s really unfortunate, but that is the reality.
We employment lawyers have all met this person and wish we could do more for them, but you’re not entitled under Connecticut law or under federal law to a warning for what you’re doing wrong at work. You’re not entitled to an opportunity to improve your employment. And unless you have a contract – either an individually negotiated contract or a collective bargaining agreement by virtue of your membership in a union – then you don’t have the protection of being terminated only for good cause or for just cause. You can be terminated for any reason – for a bad reason, for no reason – so long as it is not for an unlawful reason. And that’s the unfortunate reality of working in an at-will employment situation.
So, I would tell this person, “I’m very sorry, but I don’t think there is anything I or, frankly, any other employment lawyer is going to be able to do to help you,” and that’s just one of the breaks that goes with doing what we do.
DeMatteis: Yeah, some of the toughest news to deliver, but it’s always important that Connecticut employees know what rights they do have and, of course, what rights they don’t have. Thank you so much for watching.
Goodbaum: So true.
DeMatteis: Take care.
Goodbaum: Thanks, Amanda. Bye.