Can you be fired because your boss doesn't like your shoes? What about your eye color? Your child's name? It may surprise you to learn that, in most cases, you can be fired for just about any reason or for no reason at all. This is known as the "at-will" employment doctrine. However, there are many exceptions to this general rule. These exceptions can make answering the above questions somewhat difficult.
In Oklahoma, as in many states, a person cannot be fired for any reason that is against the law or public policy. Here are some of the most common examples of reasons employees cannot be fired:
- discrimination based on membership in a protected class, such as age (40 or older), color, genetic information, mental or physical disability, national origin, pregnancy, race, religion, or sex;
- whistleblowing that is protected by law, such as reporting unsafe conditions to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration;
- engaging in activity that is protected by law, such as filing a workers' compensation claim or serving on a jury; and
- using tobacco products or smoking off the job.
In addition, there are sometimes other restrictions placed on an employer's ability to fire a person at will. For example, a job application, employee handbook or manual, or individual employment contract may make promises about the cause that will be required before a person can be fired.
Similarly, a union employee may have additional rights under his or her collective bargaining agreement. In fact, union employees have the right to pursue employment claims outside the context of their collective bargaining agreements and grievance processes.
So let's go back to the examples at the beginning: shoes, eye color, and your child's name. In all likelihood, firing based on these reasons is probably legal. However, if one of these qualities implicates membership in a protected class, such as a Catholic or Muslim name, for example, and that was the reason for the dismissal, the case may not be so clear-cut.
As you might expect, some of these arguments can be complex. However, an experienced Oklahoma employment attorney can help you evaluate your options and ability to recover. Of course, every case is different. However, if you are unsure about what to do, contact our office today at (918) 582-2500 or use our Contact Form to set up a free consultation about your case.