Both employers and employees in Kentucky should make an effort to understand the concepts of “employment-at-will” and “wrongful termination.” The two concepts are really the opposite sides of the same coin: when can a person legally terminate an employment contract?
The general rule in Kentucky is that all employment contracts are “employment at will” unless the parties executed a written employment agreement before the employment began. Thus, either the employer or the employee can terminate the contract without providing a reason. The concept of “wrongful termination” is essentially a list of reasons where the employment at will doctrine does not apply.
Both Kentucky and the United States have laws that prevent employers from terminating an employee under certain circumstances. The most notable of such reasons is a discharge based upon race or gender. If a discharged employee can prove that the firing was based upon either factor, the employer will be required to pay damages. Likewise, an employee cannot be fired for asserting a protected right, such as claiming that a promotion was denied based upon race. Kentucky also recognizes certain aspects of public policy as precluding a termination at will. An employee cannot be fired for making a claim for workers’ compensation benefits because the state recognizes the importance of compensating for their work-related injuries.
Employees should know that the existence of any of the factors that constitutes an exception to the employment-at-will doctrine will also provide a lawful basis for quitting a job where any of the prohibited factors exists.
Anyone who has been discharged or is considering leaving their job may wish to consult a knowledgeable employment attorney for advice. An experienced lawyer can advise an employee about the nature of the employment and the suspected reasons for a potential discharge.