Can You Be Fired for No Reason If You Are over 50?
Unlike many countries around the world, workers in the United States enjoy a number of rights and protections while in the workplace. As an employee, for example, you are protected by state and federal laws from illegal discrimination in the workplace. While there are a number of state and federal laws that offer American workers protection in the workplace, there are also a number of common myths and misconceptions about those laws and rights. For example, can you be fired for no reason if you are over 50? That question raises the subject of age discrimination in employment, an area of the law that gives rise to many misconceptions among employees and employers alike.
First, it is important to dispel one of the biggest employment myths, that being that all discrimination in the workplace is prohibited. On the contrary, an employer can discriminate in the workplace without consequence unless that discrimination is based on a legally protected trait, class, or characteristic. Examples of protected classes, traits, and characteristics include, but are not limited to, things such as race, national origin, disability, sex, and age.
As an employee, you are protected against employment discrimination based on age by both state and federal law. Discrimination based on age is prohibited in any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment. At the federal level, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, or ADEA, prohibits age discrimination in the workplace. The Pennsylvania Human Rights Act, or PHRA, is the state counterpart to the ADEA and also protects workers from age discrimination in employment.
Under both the ADEA and the PHRA, workers age 40 and older are protected. What does this mean if you are a 50-year-old worker who has been fired without a reason? It means that if you were fired because of your age you may have the basis for a claim under the ADEA and/or the PHRA. If, however, your termination was unrelated to your age and you did not have an employment contract with your employer that sets forth the reasons for which you could be terminated, your termination was likely perfectly legal. Like most states, Pennsylvania is an “employment at will” state, which means an employer can fire an employee at any time and for any reason, as long as the termination was not the result of illegal discrimination.