When an employee is terminated, they likely want to know why. However, an employer may feel more comfortable just telling the employee they are terminated and wishing them the best of luck as they move on.
If this is not enough to satisfy an employee, can they demand an explanation? Do employers have any legal obligation to explain their decision? After all, the employee may suspect that they’re being fired for an illegal reason – such as because of their race, religion, age or gender.
There is no legal obligation
The short answer is no, there is no obligation for an employer to provide a reason – in most cases. This is true under at-will employment laws, which say that employers can terminate employees at any time and for (almost) any reason that they wish, other than an illegal reason. In fact, they can legally terminate an employee for no reason at all.
Some employees have contracts that specify that they need to be fired for cause. If there is a contract, then it is not an at-will employment situation, and the employer is legally obligated to follow that contract.
That being said, even with an at-will employee, not providing a reason for the firing can increase the odds of a legal claim. It may be helpful to provide a reason, even though there is no legal obligation to do so, just to demonstrate that the employee’s rights have not been violated.
Either way, some employers find themselves facing accusations of a wrongful termination. It is very important for these employers to know about potential legal defense options.