Too often I will get calls from frantic people who learn that they are about to be terminated from their jobs and want to know what they can do about it. Unfortunately, nine times out of ten, my answer is "Nothing."The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has held steadfast to the rule of law that an employer may terminate an employee for any reason, unless restrained by contract.
The only dent in this rule arose in 1974 from the decision of Geary v. United States Steel Corporation which left open the possibility of a wrongful discharge claim in circumstances where a termination of an employee would violate a "clear mandate of public policy."
Pennsylvania's Superior Court in 1998 as part of its decision in Hennessy v. Santiago gave examples of what kinds of things would violate a "clear mandate of public policy":
(1) An employer cannot require an employee to commit a crime;
(2) an employee cannot prevent an employee from complying with a statutorily imposed duty; and
(3) an employer cannot discharge an employee when specifically prohibited from doing so by statute.
These exceptions to the rule are very narrowly defined. Simply put, they are hard to prove. You cannot say that your boss wanted you to do something you feel is wrong. You must show that he wanted you to commit an act that is specifically prohibited by law. Furthermore, these exceptions deal only with Pennsylvania public policy.
As such, even if you can prove that your boss fired you because you would not violate Federal statute, it may not make a case for wrongful termination. You need to analyze Pennsylvania's Constitution and laws to ascertain Pennsylvania's public policy.
In conclusion, without an employment contract limiting the employer's right to fire you, you often have little recourse but to start looking for a new job.
If you feel that you have been discharged for a reason which violates public policy, contact an attorney. Many will give you a quick assessment over the phone.
ABOUT THE WRITERS: Thomas P. Heeney, Jr., Esquire and Stephen F. Gehringer, Esquire are attorneys of Heeney & Associates, P.C. Heeney & Associates, P.C. is a full service law firm for businesses, professionals and individuals alike. Heeney & Associates P.C. has offices in Boyertown in Berks County and Pipersville in Bucks County. Our toll-free number is 1-877-588-8817.
DISCLAIMER: This column is a service providing only general legal advice. The information is not meant to be acted upon without proper legal assistance. As with all such matters of the law, anyone requiring legal help is strongly encouraged to seek the aid of an attorney.