What are some of the most common types of public policy exceptions to the employment-at-will doctrine?
In most states, employers may not fire or discriminate against employees for serving on jury duty, exposing criminality in the workplace, filing a workers’ compensation claim, protecting others from physical danger, or refusing to take a polygraph test.
However, sometimes what seems like good public policy does not result in a favorable outcome for an employee. A good example is the case of Green v. Winston Murphy Bryant (1995) in Pennsylvania. The case involved the employee of a doctor’s office who was terminated after she informed a physician that her physical injuries were the result of a severe beating she endured from her estranged husband. The doctor’s office fired the woman, ostensibly because they feared the estranged husband might pose a danger to the office staff.
The woman sued, but a reviewing federal district court ruled that Green was an at-will employee who did not have a legal claim. Ms. Green argued that her dismissal violated two public policies protecting employee privacy rights and protecting victims of domestic violence. She pointed out that there was a Pennsylvania law that created a crime victim’s compensation board that applied to domestic violence victims. However, the court pointed out that this law was a general criminal law that did not create a “protected employment class.” The court concluded that “in the absence of any indication that Pennsylvania has established a clear mandate that crime victims generally, or spousal abuse victims specifically, are entitled to benefits or privileges beyond those enumerated in the laws, I must conclude that plaintiff’s dismissal was not in violation of public policy.”