Connecticut is an “at will” employment state, meaning that an employer can dismiss an employee for any reason or even no reason at all without incurring liability. This is true so long as the termination is not due to the employee’s status in a protected class.
If a court determines that the real reason the employer fired the employee is because of her protected class, then the employer may be ordered to pay back wages, punitive damages (to punish the employer for its intentional conduct), and in some cases, reinstate the terminated employee.
Generally speaking, Connecticut employers cannot fire an employee for any reason related to his or her:
- Marital Status
- Skin Color
- Religion or creed
- Disability (physical or mental)
- National origin or ancestry
- Veteran status
- Genetic information
For example, if an employee who’s over 40 is fired for a reason that only resulted in a verbal warning for younger employees, then a court may conclude that the termination was motivated by age discrimination and therefore illegal.
Certain activities are protected by state and/or federal law, meaning that Connecticut employers may not fire an employee in retaliation for performing them. Common examples of such activities include:
- Refusing to participate in illegal or dangerous activities
- Asking for appropriate wages
- Reporting illegal workplace activities to the authorities (whistleblowing)
- Filing a workers’ compensation claim
- Taking time off as pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act
Breach of Contract
Employment contracts generally take precedence over at will employment arrangements. These agreements specify the circumstances in which an employee can be terminated, thereby restricting a company’s ability to freely discharge a worker. A common example includes the collective bargaining agreement that governs unionized employees, which usually requires “cause” to terminate.
With breach of contract claims, it is important to remember that Connecticut law requires an employment contract to specify a date that the person’s employment ends. If there is no fixed time, the agreement is not regarded as an enforceable contract.
Employers and employees should be mindful of their employment relationship and the company’s policies and procedures that impact how that relationship may be terminated. Whether you’re a small business owner or a factory employee at a large corporation, you can contact Monarch Law to schedule a consultation or case review. We have provided representation to Connecticut employers and employees in matters including employment contracts, severance agreements, discrimination, retaliation, hostile work environment, unemployment appeal hearings, and unpaid wage claims.