Most people in the U.S. work "at will" (except for union members or employees with an employment contract). That means that we can be fired at our boss' will. Without a legal contract, we can be disciplined or fired for any reason, a stupid reason, or no reason at all.
Most company handbooks make a point of saying that workers are "at-will" and that the company can change the rules (that they made) at anytime.
What's fair and what's legal
Many people believe that workers have more rights at work than we do. If we are not treated fairly at work, it can still be legal. Public workers often have more protections under the US Constitution, state constitutions, or Civil Service (also called Merit System).
Exceptions to At-Will
There are only a few reasons that at-will workers in the private sector can't be fired (or disciplined). Read more on the exceptions to at-wll at the link on this page.
- You have an employment contract
- Firing you “violates public policy” or you are a whistleblower
- Retaliation for using your legally protected rights
- Illegal discrimination
Fighting Unfair Treatment
Even if it's not illegal, you can try to fight unfair treatment. Some companies have internal grievance procedures, (although it may not be impartial). If you have union protection, you have many rights to fair discipline and appeal.
Non-union workers do not have the right to have a co-worker present when they are questioned. You don't have the same job protections as a union member, since you can still be fired with no good reason. Even though it's not a right, you can ask to have a co-worker with you. A witness and advisor can help.
If I'm treated differently, isn't it discrimination? Discrimination doesn't mean treating people differently or unfairly. It means treating people differently BECAUSE of their race, age, or gender (and some other things, depending on what state you work in.)
If I'm fired unfairly, isn't it a wrongful discharge? Many workers are fired unfairly. Wrongful discharge is a legal term that means being fired for a reason that the law has protected, like joining a union or filing an OSHA complaint.
Don't I have a Right to Work? Right-to-Work laws have nothing to do with whether you can be fired. It's a way to take power away and give workers the Right-to-Work for less.
There is one state which gives people some protection from at-will employment.