At-Will Employment vs. Wrongful Termination

July 17, 2023
The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford

Maryland is an “at-will” employment state. What this means is that your employer can terminate you at any time, for any reason, or even for no reason at all. While it also means that an employee can quit at any time for any reason, at-will employment does seem to work primarily to the benefit of the employer. However, do not assume that you do not have any rights if you have been unfairly fired. If you have been terminated or are worried about losing your job, an employment lawyer can explain your rights and your options. 

At-Will Employment Has Limitations

At-will employment does make it easier for employers to terminate employees insofar as it insulates them from legal liability. However, this liability protection is not absolute – there are limitations. As a result, employers may be held liable for wrongful termination even though they are in an at-will employment state. If you believe that you have been unfairly terminated, an employment lawyer can review your case and determine whether you may be able to pursue a legal claim. 

Exceptions That Can Support a Wrongful Termination Claim

There are several exceptions to at-will employment laws that can allow an employee to pursue a wrongful termination claim. These exceptions can allow an employee to sue their former employer for damages including their lost wages and other losses. 


It is against the law to fire someone for discriminatory reasons. Both federal and Maryland state laws prohibit discrimination against employees on the basis of several protected characteristics, including race, sexual orientation, disability, gender, and religion. Employees who are fired because of one of these protected characteristics can pursue a wrongful termination claim. 


It is also against the law to fire someone as a result of harassment. For example, if you refused someone’s sexual advances and were subsequently terminated, you may be able to pursue a wrongful termination claim. 

Breach of Contract

Employees who have signed an employment contract cannot be fired in breach of their contract. The employee can only be fired if their actions violate the provisions of their contract or the contract has expired.

It is important to note that wrongful termination based on breach of contract is not limited only to situations where there is a written contract. Maryland law recognizes and enforces oral and implied contracts. If your employer implies that you can only be fired on certain grounds or that you will have a job for a certain period of time, you may have a wrongful termination case if you are suddenly terminated. 

Whether your contract is written or implied, ambiguities will make it difficult to prove your case. An experienced employment attorney will know what you will need to do to prove your claim. 


Employers cannot terminate an employee for participating in legally protected activities. For example, you could pursue a wrongful termination claim against your employer if they fired you for any of the following reasons: 

  • You reported discriminatory behavior or harassment to HR
  • You file a wage complaint
  • You were absent from work for jury duty

Public Policy

Finally, you may be able to pursue a wrongful termination claim if your firing would be considered contrary to public policy. This typically involves the exercise of broader, more general legal rights such as those protected by the Constitution. As a result, you may have a wrongful termination claim if you were fired for any of the following reasons: 

  • You refused to participate in criminal activity in the workplace
  • You were fired because of your political activities
  • You refused to work in unsafe working conditions

Evidence Will Be Vital

The success of your wrongful termination claim will depend upon the evidence. The fact that you were terminated will not be sufficient. Even in cases where your termination was obviously discriminatory, you will need evidence to prove that your employer fired you for discriminatory reasons. Unfortunately, obtaining some of the evidence you need can be extremely challenging. An employment lawyer can help, but there are a few things you can do to protect your claim in advance: 

  • Keep notes of any incidents that you believe are pertinent to your termination, including dates, times, locations, and the people involved. 
  • Keep copies of any emails or other documents that you believe are relevant to your termination. 
  • Make a list of all the people who you believe have relevant knowledge of your termination, including co-workers who may have witnessed incidents relevant to your termination. 
  • Document your lost wages and other financial losses. 

Contact an Employment Attorney Today

The best thing you can do if you have been wrongfully terminated is to get an employment attorney on your side. Employment attorney J.W. Stafford and his team help people who have been wrongfully terminated get the compensation they deserve. To discuss your case and how we can help, contact The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford at 410-514-6099 to schedule a consultation.