At-will employment means that an employee can be hired and fired at will, for almost any reason at all. It means an employer doesn’t have to follow specific rules to terminate you. If they wanted to fire an employee for something small, such as liking a different baseball team, or something more serious, such as making a decision based on false information, they can do it.
Here’s an example:
ABC Electronics believes that Steve stole computers from ABC’s warehouse, and so they fire him. A month later, it’s discovered that Bill actually stole the computers. He admits to it, the police are notified, and Bill is arrested. There’s no doubt that Steve didn’t steal the computers. He then files a lawsuit saying he was fired illegally.
However, the court will say that even though Steve was fired for a reason that was later found to be wrong, he was not fired illegally. That’s the issue with being fired in an at-will employment state like Kentucky. The law says that as long as an employer has a good faith basis to believe their reason for firing, they’re justified for doing it, even if they are ultimately proven wrong.
There are some exceptions though. There are a few reasons under the Kentucky Civil Rights Act that a firing can be illegal.
In Kentucky, it’s illegal to fire someone because of their race. The statute only states ‘because of race.’ There is no specification as to what race. Therefore reverse discrimination is also applicable. If an employee is fired because he or she is white, the case is considered a wrongful discharge, just as if the employee were black, Asian, or Hispanic.
To file for age discrimination, the employee must be 40 or older. Someone who is 39 would not qualify. There is no discrimination for being “too young.”
An employer cannot fire or refuse to hire an employee because of their gender, but that comes with an exception. In Kentucky, as in most states, it is still legal to fire an employee because they are transgendered. Despite everything being done in employment law, this does not violate the Kentucky Civil Rights Act.
Similarly, it is not illegal to be fired because of sexual orientation. It is possible for someone to be fired or not hired because they are gay. As we progress forward and gay marriage becomes more accepted, I think the law will finally catch up, and sexual orientation will become one of the legally protected categories.
4. Nation of Origin
Just like race, it’s illegal to fire someone because of where they are from. You can’t be fired just because you’re from another part of the world. It’s also an important category to separate from race, because an employer could try to fire someone of the same race, but do it because they’re from a different country (for example, a white business owner who fires another white employee because they’re from Ireland).
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 also protects employees with disabilities, as well as this statute. An employer cannot refuse to hire someone because of their disability status, assuming that disability doesn’t prevent them from doing the job at all.
This not only protects people from different religions around the world — Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs, and so on — it even protects people within Christian denominations. For example, f your religious practices don’t allow you to work on certain days, you cannot be made to work on those days, and you cannot be fired because of it.
This statute protects any woman who is pregnant and keeps her from losing her job while she is on maternity leave. It also means that a company cannot refuse to hire a woman because she’s pregnant. However, the Kentucky Civil Rights Act does not protect men who leave work when their wife has a baby. They are protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), but that would be a more difficult case to win, if the situation ever came up.
Those are the seven basic exceptions to the at-will employment rules for the state of Kentucky. If you have ever been told, especially if it’s been put in writing, that you’re being fired or not hired for any of these reasons, you may have a discrimination case. If you’re not sure, speak to an employment law attorney to see if you have a valid claim against your employer.