In Maryland, the common law rule with employment contracts of indefinite duration (at will) can be legally terminated at the pleasure of either party at either time. St. Comm’n on Human Rel. v. Amecom Div., 278 Md. 120, 360 A.2d 1 (1976). Under Maryland Code (1957, 1979Repl.Vol.) Art. 49B, s 16(a)(1), it is unlawful for an employer to discharge any employee “because of… race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, marital status, or physical or mental handicap unrelated in nature and extent so as to reasonably preclude the performance of the employment….”
Some jurisdictions accept wrongful discharges as an exception to the common law employee at will doctrine. Some courts recognize the employer’s right to terminate their employees no matter what, and do not allow wrongful discharges. Some courts however allow a cause of action for wrongful discharge, either in a tort or in a contract case, focusing primarily upon the employer’s motivation for discharging the employee.
A majority of courts that accept a cause of action for wrongful discharge have treated the employees’ claim as a tort action. Several of these tort cases involve at will employees being fired for filling workmen’s compensation claims. Adler v. American Standard Corporation, 291 Md. 31 (1981).
With few exceptions, most courts that allow a cause of action for wrongful discharge have to some extent relied on statutory expressions of public policy as a basis for the employee’s claim. Adler v. American Standard Corporation, 291, 469 Md. 31, 40 (1981).
Courts holding that at will employees failed to state a cause of action, but recognizing implicitly or expressly that a cause of action would be recognized under proper circumstances, generally do so on the grounds that no clear mandate of public policy was contravened by the discharge. Adler v. American Standard Corporation, 291, 469 Md. 31, 40 (1981).
Maryland recognizes that the modern economic conditions differ significantly from those that existed when the at will rule was first advanced in the nineteenth century. “According to the 1980 census statistics, a majority of American workers do not have the job security provided by collective bargaining agreements or civil service regulations.” Adler v. American Standard Corporation, 291, 470 Md. 31, 42 (1981). Employers have a duty to terminate only in good faith. When an employee is discharged from their job, they still have to face every day economic conditions, and the uncertainty of meeting those conditions. However, when determining if the employee has been discharged wrongfully, the courts and the jury have to look at whether the employee was fired for poor work performance, or whether the employee was fired for refusing to act in an unlawful manner or attempted to perform a statutorily prescribed duty. Adler v. American Standard Corporation, 291, 470 Md. 31, 42 (1981). The employer however, has the right to fire his at will employee for the benefit of his or her business.
Any modifications of the at will rule must take into account that public policies are not contravened. Adler v. American Standard Corporation, 291, 470 Md. 31, 42 (1981). That is, judicial decisions in Maryland can modify the at will rule for public policy purposes, where the courts find that the at will rule is no longer suitable to the circumstances for our people. Condore v. Prince George’s Co., 289 Md. 516, 425 A.2d 1011 (1981). In other words, is the set of facts linked to the case a proper case to go against the legislative bodies interpretation of the public policy, for the court to alter public policy? Each set of facts must be looked at on a case by case basis, and the judges must make sure that it is for the benefit of public policy to go against the at will doctrine. Adler v. American Standard Corporation, 291, 472 Md. 31, 45, 46 (1981).
Whereas it may be difficult to prove that an at will employee was discharged wrongfully or not, we here at the Law Offices of Baldwin and Briscoe have dealt with both sides of this situation, and we will continue to fight to represent our clients in an employee at will case!
This is not legal advice. The Law Offices of Baldwin and Briscoe are experienced attorneys who can help you receive the maximum for your case. For more information as to whether you are entitled to relief due to the employee at will doctrine, contact a practicing attorney at the Law Offices of Baldwin and Briscoe.