I work in an at-will state. My job was in a private psychiatric residential facility. After two years, I was fired for practicing nursing without a license, although this was untrue. I believe my very abrupt termination was due to safety complaints I made the day before to the new admissions director. Is this legal, even in an at-will state?
An at-will employee in an at-will state simply means the employer can fire that employee for a reason or for no reason. The same is true for employees: They theoretically can leave employment at their own will. In other words, there is no guarantee of continued employment by either the employer or employee.
The at-will employment doctrine is not absolute. Remedies for employees terminated for discriminatory or other unlawful reasons are often found in other state or federal statutes. For example, if the employee whistle-blows about poor working or patient care conditions to an outside agency and is terminated under the guise of the at-will doctrine, the employee has a legal remedy for the employer’s actions.
You need to consult with a nurse attorney or other attorney in your state who works with employees in the area of employment law. The attorney can advise you about the applicable laws in your state. If the attorney feels there was an unlawful termination, such as you reported your safety concerns internally to the new admissions director and were then fired, the attorney can advise you of your specific legal options.
One of your legal options may be the the fact that your employer’s position is that you were practicing without a license. First, this untrue statement clearly can harm your professional reputation. Second, if you are reported to the board of nursing when this is not true, you may also have a cause of action against your employer for a bad faith report. You should seek this consultation as soon as you can.