People in Kentucky generally want to excel at their job and employers generally want to keep productive employees. However, situations sometimes arise where an employer has to let an employee go. While sometimes this is unfortunate but understandable, for example in a company-wide layoff, other times getting fired seems unfair. And, while Kentucky is an at-will employment state, which can benefit employers, employers still cannot break the law when firing an employee.
What does “at-will” employment mean?
At-will employment means that an employer can fire an employee for any reason they deem necessary, as long as that reason does not violate Kentucky law or federal law. Also, at-law employment protects employers from being sued by a fired employee, unless the firing was done for an unlawful reason.
In addition, at-will employment allows an employer to change the scope of the job without notice. In contrast, where there is a contract changes must be negotiated and agreed-upon by both parties. For example, due to at-will employment an employer could raise or lower wages without facing legal consequences as long as state and federal law regarding wages is followed.
In contrast, if there is an employment contract, the terms of the contract trump at-will employment. Where there is a contract, termination can only occur if there is good cause for doing so. Contracts generally include provisions regarding employee performance, pay and misconduct. Collective bargaining agreements are a type of employment contract.
Exceptions to at-will employment
As mentioned, employers cannot fire a worker for illegal reasons. For example, federal law provides workers with protection against discrimination in the workplace. Employers cannot fire workers of certain protected classes for discriminatory reasons. In addition, employers cannot fire workers in retaliation for exercising their rights under state and federal law. For example, if a worker blows the whistle and reports employer misconduct, an employer cannot fire the worker in retaliation for doing so. In addition, employers cannot fire workers for reasons that violate public policy such as serving jury duty.
As this shows, even though at-will employment is generally the norm in Kentucky, it does have limits. Employers cannot violate the law or public policy when firing an employee. If an employer fires an employee for a discriminatory reason or in retaliation, the employee may be able to hold their employer liable for the damages they suffered through a wrongful termination claim.