Losing a job is difficult under any circumstances. When it’s unexpected, the employee may feel as if the act was wrongful termination. Like most US states, Hawaii is an “at will employment” state. Broadly speaking, at will means that an employee can be terminated at any time for any reason.
While that sounds foreboding, at will is not that open and shut. Workers have protection against wrongful termination, especially in cases of discrimination or retaliation for whistleblowers (sexual harassment, OSHA violations, FMLA, etc.).
There are two more exceptions to the rule of at will:
- An employee has a contract with the employer.
- An employee is a union member with a collective bargaining agreement.
When is it wrongful termination?
Discrimination and retaliation are both significant issues in the workplace. Beyond these, at will status can be contested. An implied contract is just as binding as a physical contract. With an implied contract, the employer’s communications state job security. This includes verbal comments such as “your job is safe here,” or terminology in an employee handbook that details terms of employment.
At first glance, the terms of at will employment suggest that employees lack security. However, court rulings have proven that an implied contract is as effective as a physical or verbal agreement. Anyone who feels that they have been terminated unfairly should consult with an employment attorney to discuss your case. Depending on contracts, job terms and other factors, it may violate the law and your rights.