I am routinely amazed at the amount of smart, educated people who have drastic misconceptions about their employment rights. The following is a brief discussion in plain English of a few things that everyone should know about employment law in Nevada and some advice on how to handle a potential employment dispute.
Nevada, like virtually every state, is an “at-will” employment state.
Many people I encounter think that Nevada employers need to have a good reason to fire you, but that simply is not true. The truth is they just need to not have a “bad reason” to fire you. “At-will employment” means that you and your employer can terminate your employment relationship at any point, for any reason, with or without notice. A lot of people automatically feel like this is unfair – shouldn’t your employer need a good reason to fire you? Most of us would agree, but what about the other side of the equation: do you need a good reason to quit? In an at-will employment position, you can quit whenever you want without giving notice, just like your employer can fire you whenever it wants (subject to some limitations discussed below) without notice. It seems unfair when you’re on the wrong end of an arbitrary termination, but it doesn’t seem unfair when you quit your job to get higher pay somewhere else. If you were subject to an employment contract, you could be denied the opportunity to take that higher paying job or you could theoretically owe money to your employer for the costs incurred by you breaking your contract. So I always tell people to be careful what you wish for – employment contracts aren’t always everything they’re cracked up to be.
At-will employment and “right to work” are two very different things.
Because Nevada is such a strong union state, a lot of people confuse “at-will” employment and “right to work,” but these are actually two very different things. “Right to work” just means that Nevada does not allow anyone to compel you to join a union to secure employment. At-will employment is discussed above. Nevada is both an at-will employment state and a right to work state.
At-will employment does not mean there are no limitations on why your employer can fire you.
Nevada has some exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine, however, that can potentially protect you: implied contracts and public policy exceptions. Implied contracts arise when your employer, through written or oral communications, indicates to you that your job is secure in some way. These types of implied contracts can be found in a variety of circumstances, such as when an employer states that you will only be fired for just cause, if the employee handbook includes a finite list of reasons for which you can be terminated, or if your employer pledges to only terminate you after progressive discipline is enacted. Trying to prove such contracts can be an uphill battle, though, and most employers are smart enough to write their employee handbooks with disclaimers.
Public policy exceptions are situations where a court determines that Nevada has a strong interest in stopping someone from being fired for some act. Reporting illegal behavior, refusing to violate the law, or filing a worker’s compensation claim are a few of these exceptions. As you can probably tell, however, these exceptions usually only arise in “last resort” situations. You don’t want to plan to rely on public policy, because by that point you’re probably already in a bad position with your employer.
Advice on Handling a Potential Employment Dispute
Employment law is one field of the law where the so-called “bright-line rules” can be elusive. This field involves a case-by-case analysis that considers the entire context of your situation, so it’s difficult to give blanket advice on how to handle any given situation – and be wary of those who tell you otherwise. The best advice you can get is:
· Take a conservative approach when it comes to evaluating your rights and remedies in the workplace. This means you shouldn’t rely on anything unless you’ve got it in writing or there has been clear and convincing support given by someone with the power to speak on behalf of your employer.
· Don’t listen to what happened to someone else and assume it applies to you – that person had his or her own context that you may not fully appreciate.
· Document everything. If you think you’re headed for an employment dispute, start keeping notes of conversations and save e-mails on a separate device if you can.
· Don’t consider suing anyone for revenge or because you feel you were treated unfairly. Only file suit if you have concrete and provable money damages. Otherwise litigation is guaranteed to be more headache than redemption.