Can You Be Fired for Any Reason in a Right to Work State?

Submitted by cendy on Fri, 09/30/2022 - 19:37

Yes, you can be fired in a right to work state. The right to work sounds like it is about the right to have a job, or to keep a job once you have it but in fact the term is related to membership to a labor union.

More than 50 percent of U.S. states have "right to work" laws which offer the guarantee that no person can be forced to join a union or pay union dues, as a condition of their employment. Also, right to work laws may prohibit contracts that enforce the hiring of unionized workers only.

The idea behind the right to work principle is that every individual has the right to join a labor union, but must not be forced to do so.

What is the Right to Work Law?

Right to work law grants workers the right to choose whether or not they’d like to join a union in their workplace. You can choose if you want to join the union or not.

Right To Work State Firing Laws

Right to work employment laws are very common, but most people don’t completely understand what a right to work law is or what it protects. More than half of the states in the United States have right to work laws. The states that currently have right to work laws in place are:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

However, just because a state has right to work laws that doesn’t protect you from being fired. Right to work doesn’t mean that you can’t get fired. You can still be fired from your job in a state that has right to work laws. Right to work laws are different from at-will work laws.

At-will work laws allow employers to fire employees for almost any reason. It’s difficult to prove wrongful termination in an at-will law state but you can prove wrongful termination if you were fired by an employer in a right to work state.

Even though you can be fired from your job even if you live in a state with right to work laws if you are wrongfully terminated you may be able to bring a case against your employer for wrongful termination.

In order to prove that you were wrongfully terminated you will need to show proof that you were fired for an illegal reason such as retaliation or discrimination or that your firing violated your contract or union agreement. 

Does Right to Work Mean I Can Be Fired For Any Reason? 

As it applies to state labor laws, the term ‘right to work’ often confuses workers. The term does not mean that you cannot be fired ‘at will’, i.e. for almost any reason the employer decides. Every state but one (Montana) has at-will employment conditions, which allow employers to fire an employee for almost any reason (with some limited exceptions). The same right applies to employees, i.e. they can terminate their employment at any time without giving a reason. 

The term ‘right to work’ applies to about half of U.S. states and prevents unions from enforcing membership or membership dues as a condition of employment. In these ‘right to work’ states, your right to work is your right to have a job without being a paid-up union member. It won’t stop you losing your job if your employer decides to fire you.

There are some exceptions to at-will firing. These are when:

  • you have been discriminated against because of your age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, ethnic group, color or disability;
  • you have acted as a whistleblower or have been fired because you did something which was quite lawful;
  • the employer breached the terms of an employment contract or agreement.

An employee who has been fired for one of these reasons may file a wrongful termination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), with their own state’s Fair Employment Practices Agency (FEPA), or the state’s Department of Labor (DOL). The EEOC investigates cases of workplace discrimination, as does the state’s FEPA. The DOL investigates other breaches of labor laws including wrongful termination. 

Can an At-Will Employee Be Fired For Any Reason?

Most states base employment conditions for both employers and employees on at-will employment which means you can be fired for any reason as long as it is not illegal.

Also you as an employee can leave your job without giving prior notice. The two main reasons for a wrongful termination claim are based on discrimination by the employer or retaliation against the employer for being a whistleblower such as reporting the employer for taking part in an illegal activity like avoiding tax.

However employees do have some workers’ rights because they are covered by wrongful termination laws, which prevent employers from firing an employee under certain circumstances.  

Federal and state discrimination laws prohibit employers from firing an employee based on an employee’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or veteran status.

Some states also have statutes that protect employees from discrimination based on other factors like the employee’s sexual orientation.

These laws relate to members of protected classes who because of their membership the employer cannot take some forms of adverse employment actions.

However this doesn’t stop an employer for firing an employee based on his or her lack of ability to satisfactorily complete a job’s requirements.

In other words, an employer could fire John because he failed to perform the required tasks of his job, but not because he is in a wheelchair.

In addition to discrimination laws there are also federal and/or state laws which prohibit employers from firing at-will employees for a number of reasons such as retaliation for taking part in quite legal activities such as claiming minimum wage or overtime compensation, taking part in union activities, filing for workers' compensation, and "whistleblowing."

Can You Be Fired For No Reason In a Right to Work State?

Because the right-to-work provision does not have an impact on if you can be fired or not, you can be fired in a right to work state. If you’re an at-will employee, then you can be fired at any time.

You may or may not be fired for any reason in a right-to-work state, because right-to-work laws have absolutely nothing to do with whether or not you can be fired. What does matter is not whether or not the state has the right-to-work law, but rather whether or not it's an at-will state.

What is the Difference Between Right to Work and Employment At-Will?

At-will employment means you can be fired by your employer or you can choose to quit your job for any reason. Right to work means you can join a union or work for a unionized employer without joining the union. Every state except Montana is an at-will employment state.

Quite simply, under the at-will policy, either the employer or the employee may choose to terminate employment at any time for any reason unless it's illegal and you can prove you have been wrongfully terminated.

This may happen if you have been terminated due to any type of discrimination such as gender, race, religion and sexual orientation.  

Many union agreements have requirements that employers only terminate for just causes, and that is the reason why many people are confused with the right-to-work laws with at-will laws.

If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated you should speak with a wrongful termination lawyer who will help you file a claim for compensation.

It is never easy to prove wrongful termination if you work on an at will arrangement as both parties have the right to fire or quit the job without providing a reason. If the employer has breached federal discrimination laws then a lawyer can help you gather evidence to prove it.

Additional Resources