While it may feel very wrong to be fired, often it is not legally wrongful termination. Employment in New Jersey is “at will,” which means that, in most instances, the employer can fire you or lay you off at any time, with or without any reason. There are, however, specific reasons for which an employer cannot fire you, refuse to hire you, refuse to promote you or give you a raise or take any other “adverse employment action” against you.
A current or prospective employer cannot do any of these things because of your
age, sex or gender, race, national origin, disability or perceived disability, pregnancy status, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, because you “blew the whistle,” or for many other reasons. You also cannot be fired if your employer made a specific promise about the length of your employment in an employment contract.
If you have been fired or forced to quit, you can file a claim for unemployment benefits. The state unemployment agency will review the information you provide, talk to your past employer, and will want talk to you - usually by phone. Once the review is complete, the agency will grant or deny your claim for unemployment benefits. If your claim is granted, you will soon start filing weekly claims for unemployment benefits and receiving your unemployment checks.
If your claim for is denied, you have the right to appeal, but this must be done very quickly to preserve your rights. Some employers try to avoid paying unemployment benefits by claiming you quit on your own or were guilty of misconduct. Do not make the mistake of trying to handle an appeal without an attorney experienced in this area because there can be many pitfalls and minefields in the process. For example, if you fail to bring up a legal point, you may be precluded from making that point later on.
We will represent you for a reasonable flat fee in the initial appeal process, which usually involves a telephonic or in person hearing. If you need to appeal to a higher court, we also charge a reasonable flat fee.
As opposed to “employment at will,” an employment contract is a written or oral agreement that spells out the terms of one’s employment, such as the job description, salary, benefits and length of employment. If you are in the process of negotiating the terms of an employment or are trying to figure out what all the legalease means, you should consult an attorney experienced in this area of law.
Many clients come to our office after their employment has been terminated and they have been presented with a separation or severance agreement. These agreements contain waivers releasing their former employer from liability for any claims the employee may have against the company and contain promises the employee must make in order to obtain severance compensation. The employer may want you to think you must sign the document as it is written, but that is not always true.
The terms of the agreement may be open to negotiation and there can be many things to consider including confidentiality and trade secrets; restrictive covenants; cooperation provisions; the severance package; other monies owed (sick or vacation time); benefits - COBRA; release of claims; and non-disparagement. It is in your best interest to have a lawyer review and negotiate the agreement before you sign to get you the most favorable results and understand what your rights are.