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Employment At Will in New Jersey

Has your employer told you that you are an “at will” employee?  Do you know what that means?

As with most states, employment in New Jersey is presumed to be “at-will.”  What this means is that if you are a private employee and don’t have an employment contract or collective bargaining agreement protecting you from termination, you can be fired at any time for almost any reason. 

Can your employer really fire you for any reason?

“Almost any reason” does not mean any reason at all.  There are a number of exceptions and modifications to the at-will employment doctrine in New Jersey. 

For example, employers cannot terminate employees for discriminatory reasons or in retaliation for alleging discrimination (see New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. § 10:5-1 et seq.), for blowing the whistle on wrongful activities (see New Jersey Conscientious Employee Act, N.J.S.A. § 34:19-1 et seq.), for attending jury duty (N.J.S.A. § 2B:20-17) or for filing a workers compensation claim (N.J.S.A. § 34:15-39.1).  If you think that you have been fired for one of these reasons, you should contact and employee rights attorney to discuss your case.

Does my contract need to be in writing?

No.  New Jersey courts can enforce an oral employment agreements.  Of course, you must demonstrate that such a contract actually exists.  That will require proof that a direct promise by someone at the company in a position to make such a promise (e.g., you can’t base your claim on what a secretary may have told you).  Equally important, you must demonstrate that you acted based on the promise made (in legal terms, called “reliance”).

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