Employment Law

At-Will Employment

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.”


This is a web preview of the "The Handy Law Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App