Terminating the employment of a worker in the District of Columbia can be one of the knottiest problems a business can face. Without a written contract to rely upon, a business can unwittingly step into a morass of litigation and public accusations involving race or gender discrimination, and an employee who desires to quit a job has little or no guidance about whether a countersuit by the employer will be the end result. The rules that apply to this situation can be complex, but a knowledge of the fundamentals of what is called the rule of “at will employment” can help avoid a serious mistake.
The general rule
In the District of Columbia, all employment relationships are “at will,” that is, without a written contract, an employer can discharge an employee, or an employee can quit a job without giving a reason or any prior notice. The limitations on this rule are perhaps more important than the rule itself.
Discharge for an improper purpose is prohibited
An employer cannot discharge an employee for any of the following reasons:
- An employer may not discharge an employee for any reason relating to race or gender.
- An employee cannot be discharged for attempting to enforce a lawful right, such as the right to paid sick leave, seeking workers’ compensation for a work related injury, or making a complaint against the employer for prohibited discrimination
Many of the limitations on the “at will employment rule” are contained in specific statutes or rules promulgated by the entity having legislative jurisdiction over the governmental entity. In the District of Columbia, those entities are the District’s City Council and the United States Congress.
Summing it up
Anyone who is contemplating quitting a job may wish to consult an experienced labor law attorney for advice. A capable lawyer can evaluate the factual situation and provide advice on the likelihood of escaping adverse consequences.