Dear J.T. & Dale: I have worked for the same company for 11 years. I can retire in 15 months. I know I live in a “right to work” state and that I could be fired at any time. Are there any laws that protect me from being fired before I retire? I am honest, dependable and hardworking, yet a few times recently my boss has threatened to let me go. He did this for no reason. Will I get fired before I retire? – Nicole
DALE: Time to turn once again to our favorite employment attorney, Scott Gordon of Rodey Law in Albuquerque, N.M. First, Scott, remind us of the general position of most employees.
SCOTT: This is the default situation in many states: If you don’t have a contract, you’re employed at will. If you’re employed at will, your employment can be terminated at any time, for any reason (or no reason), without liability.
J.T.: Which makes it tough on employees, but they are not without rights.
SCOTT: Exactly. For example, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act is a federal law that prohibits an employer from terminating an employee based on age. Anyone age 40 and over is protected. Also, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act prohibits an employer from discharging an employee for the purpose of avoiding the payment of retirement benefits. Many states also have similar laws prohibiting age-based employment decisions. So, even if Nicole is employed at will, she can’t be fired for an illegal reason, such as her age.
J.T.: I would urge you, Nicole, to do all you can to make sure it doesn’t happen. Contact your state’s employment services bureau and tell them you fear age discrimination. Explain what is happening and seek advice on what you can do to cover yourself. They will provide you with instruction in terms of what you can do to document your situation.
SCOTT: Nicole should ask her boss why he has recently mentioned letting her go. She should write down the answer and save it. Hopefully the boss will say that Nicole is a valued employee and she was just being reminded of her legal employment status. But if the boss is up to something, there’s a good chance he will slip up and say something improper or inconsistent. If Nicole gets fired, her note would be an important piece of evidence.
DALE: However, Nicole, I urge you to go into that conversation with an open mind. Don’t let your boss become the enemy – make sure that you are truly seeking his advice and that he knows that you are determined not just to do your job, but to be his ally… there’s a huge, life-altering difference between the two.
© 2012 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.
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