In Pennsylvania, employment is presumed to be at will. As a general rule, Pennsylvania does not recognize a common-law cause of action for termination of an employment at-will relationship. Absent a specific statutory or contractual provision (only applicable if you have a contract for employment), an employment relationship may be terminated by either part at any time, for any reason, or no reason. Employers have the upper hand in this regard.
There are, however, a limited number of exceptions to employment at will that have been recognized to date by the Pennsylvania appellate courts: (1) where there is an actual or implied contract or additional consideration, (2) where there is a specific statute prohibiting discharge, or (3) where the employer’s conduct violates public policy. Keep in mind though that to fit within the public policy exceptions, the employer’s conduct must be of the type that “strikes at the heart of a citizen’s social rights, duties, and responsibilities.” McGonagle v. Union Fidelity Corp., 556 A.2d 878, 885 (Pa. Super. 1989). Also, the public policy at issue must be articulated in the constitution, legislation, administrative regulation, or judicial decision. Jacques v. AKZO Int’l Salt, Inc., 619 A.2d 748 (Pa. Super. 1993)
Examples of cases where an action for wrongful discharge was recognized:
1. discharge for reporting the employer's violations of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
2. constructive discharge due to employee’s past felony conviction for assault.
discharge of employee for performing jury duty.
3. Discharge of employee for filing claim for workers’ compensation or disability benefits.
Examples of cases where an action for wrongful discharge was not recognized:
1. discharge of an employee for complaining about defective products to management.
2. discharge for calling to the company's attention defects in the manufacturing of pumps for an overseas company did not violate any stated public policy.
3. discharge of employee who dismantled his employer's illegal video and audio surveillance equipment.
employee was discharged after complaining about the financially wasteful manner in which his department was run.
4. employee was discharged for actively seeking a position with a competitor.
5. where relations with those under the employee's supervision had deteriorated irretrievably.
6. employee was discharged even though he had done the job well,
7. where false accusations of criminal behavior led to discharge,
8. college president was discharged for insisting on a publicly conducted investigation of illegal activities of member of the Board and a dean of the College.
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