Wrongful Termination in an At-Will Employment State

wronful termination in Michigan

Wrongful Termination Laws in Michigan

By: Krissia J. Krohn

Michigan is considered an “at-will” employment state. This means, absent a contract stating otherwise, the employment can be terminated by either the employer or the employee at any time, for any or no reason at all. There are, however, a few exceptions to the at-will employment model where termination of an employee can constitute a wrongful termination.

“Wrongful termination” refers to an employer terminating an employee for reasons deemed illegal. Exceptions to Michigan’s at-will employment concept include breach of contract, discrimination, and the violation of public policy. The first two exceptions are fairly straight forward. First, a breach of contract exception is when an employer breaches the employment contract when terminating the employee. This often means a procedural or substantive protection the employee possessed while employed was not honored by the employer such as the right to notice, the right to remedy certain issues relating to the employee’s continued employment, etc.

The second, a discrimination exception involves being terminated based on any anti-discrimination laws, which often include color, race, religious affiliation, age, height, disability, marital status, etc. This is the most common of the wrongful termination suits filed in Michigan.

The third exception, the public policy exception, is a little more complex. Employers may not terminate employees when the reason for termination violates public policy. Courts are to determine from objective legal sources what public policy is, not to simply assert what such policy ought to be based on subjective views of individual judges.   For guidance, the Supreme Court provided three examples of public policy exceptions: (1) the employee was terminated in violation of an explicit legislative statement prohibiting the termination, discipline, or other adverse treatment of an employee who act in accordance with a statutory right or duty; (2) the employee fails or refuses to violate the law in the course of employment; or (3) the employee exercised a right conferred by a well-established legislative enactment.

These types of suits are the least common in terms of claims typically filed in Michigan and are also the least likely to lead to a recovery by the employee.

Andrew D. Concannon and John E. Gannon practice in the areas of business and corporate law, labor and employment law, wrongful termination, and litigation at SMITH BOVILL, P.C. These articles are intended to introduce various issues arising within this field of practice and are not intended to replace individual legal advice. If you have questions, please contact Andrew or John at the firm’s Saginaw office.