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Firing an Employee: The Important Laws You Need To Know

fire employee

In the United States, most workers are hired under something known as “at-will” employment, a policy that states employees may be terminated at any time, with no notice, and for almost any reason—or no reason at all. However, this doesn’t mean an employer can wrongfully terminate an employee. Firing an employee for any of the following reasons is illegal.

Information To Know Before You Fire an Employee


It’s illegal to fire an employee because you are discriminating against their race, color, religion, sex, gender identity (including sexual orientation and transgender status), age, disability, pregnancy, or nation of origin. There are many laws that back this up, such as The Americans with Disabilities Act, The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to name a few. Here are some examples: you can’t fire an employee because they’re an immigrant; you can’t fire an employee who has a different religion from your own; and you can’t fire an employee because they are older than the rest of your workforce.


It’s also illegal to fire an employee in retaliation for them asserting their right when it comes to the discrimination laws mentioned above. For example, let’s say an employee complains you passed him over for a promotion because of his race. You can’t fire him for those complaints—even if the courts find you not guilty of race discrimination, you could still be guilty of retaliation.

Not Being a U.S. Citizen

As long as an employee is legally eligible to work within the United States, employers cannot fire that person solely because they are not a U.S. citizen. This is backed by the Federal Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA).

Public Policy Violations

There are quite a few things that fall under the “public policy” exception, which means an employer can’t fire an employee if it violates a public interest.

Here are a few examples:

  • You cannot fire an employee for exercising their legal rights, such as attending jury duty, voting, taking family leave, or filing a claim under workers’ compensation.
  • You cannot fire an employee for refusing to commit an illegal act, such as refusing to falsify documents or to lie about missing licenses.
  • You cannot fire an employee for reporting that you are violating a law, such as reporting OSHA infractions or fraudulent accounting.

Despite the “at-will” employment policy, it’s best to be prepared for all circumstances. Document performance issues with your employees, so you can “prove” there was a good reason behind the firing if a terminated employee decides to bring a lawsuit.

Further, make sure employees know what rights they have. If you have more than 20 employees, and you offer your employees a group health insurance plan, you are obligated to offer terminated employees COBRA (or continuation of health insurance coverage). If you have less than 20 employees, check with your state’s laws, as some have similar laws for smaller companies. It is also your responsibility to let terminated employees know that they may qualify for unemployment insurance. Severance packages are not required by federal law, but are generally seen as a good will effort by the employer.

Spring-Green Peer Groups Provide Support

Knowing when to terminate an employee, how best to do it, and what benefits you need to offer can be a bit of a puzzle. That’s why so many business turn to Spring-Green’s extensive expertise. “I talk to my Spring-Green business consultant two or three times a week,” says Travis Snead, Spring-Green franchise owner in North Carolina. “It may be for a few minutes or a couple of hours, but they are always there to answer questions and lend guidance.”

Further, Spring-Green’s peer groups can help get you answers from others in your same predicament. “[I can talk to] other franchisees from across the country, with all kinds of experience out in the field,” says Snead. “I can ask, ‘Hey, how did you handle this?’ or ‘How do you take care of that?’ and there’s a whole system of support.”

Interested in a company that can help keep you up to date and competitive in the green industry? Spring-Green can help you grow and diversify with our 40 years of experience and our proven expertise in marketing and technology. Learn more about how Spring-Green can expand your lawn care services. Call 1-800-777-8608 or visit us at www.growmygreenindustrybusiness.com.

*Montana is the only state that does not have “at-will” employment. If your business operates in Montana, please familiarize yourself with its local labor laws.