If you are working for a corporation, follow job instructions and then get arrested for doing something illegal, how do you protect yourself if arrested? Alternatively, your contract specified you as an “At Will” employee. Does that really mean that your employer can fire you at any time and for any reason without any warning?
Let’s take these one at a time.
Getting Fired Because Your Employer Set You Up
Assuming you did not know that you were doing something illegal, then your best course of action is get legal representation to establish your innocence. While employment law is complex, with many possible defense laws to consider based on the particular circumstances, one good line of defense might be a law called the Breach of Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing.
A Hypothetical Example
Suppose, your employer told you that you needed to cold call people because the corporation was an agency that represented a major technology computer company like say, Microsoft or Apple. You were told that the purpose of your job was to help people with software issues associated with their operating system. However, much to your surprise and bewilderment, you were arrested in an FBI sting operation after making a few calls.
The FBI conducted an investigation that traced back the caller of a crime ring to your telephone number. You were arrested for identity theft and for breaking into people’s bank accounts.
Establishing Your Innocence
In your case, fraud would have to be established when you first signed up for the job.
Your lawyer must show that you did not know that your employer made a false representation, that your employer intentionally deceived you, and that you were harmed by relying on the false representation. Your lawyer may also have to show that at no time during your employment did you learn that a false representation had been made. In other words, you continued to believe that your employer's business and your activities were completely legal and there was no intention to cause harm to “clients.”
Getting Fired Seemingly “Just Because”
Most employment contracts use the phrase “at will” which is often used as a catch-all term for employers who want to keep themselves covered should they decide to terminate someone for reasons that person views as unfair or that could, potentially be seen as illegal.
A Hypothetical Example
After work one night, you and your coworkers go out for drinks and get a little carried away. You wait until you feel sober enough to drive but even so, on the drive home you fail to stop at a stop sign and get pulled over. The officer smells alcohol on your breath and, yep, you guessed it, you are charged with a DUI.
You tell your employer about the ticket and your upcoming court appearance. You want to be honest and you’re going to need some time off from work in finding a defense attorney (who, hopefully, can help you beat the DUI ticket so that you don’t wind up with a misdemeanor or felony conviction on your record) and preparing for your day in court.
Your employer promptly fires you. Can he do that? He mentions something about your being an “at will” employee but you don’t remember signing anything.
Here’s the thing: in situations like this, it is the ticket and criminal charge that need to be addressed first. These are the things that could legally affect your future employment. If you can keep that from being entered onto your permanent record you will have an easier time convincing a second judge that you have a legal case against your former employer. You and a lawyer will have to examine your employment contract and any official documents you’ve signed and the atmosphere of your former work place. You might find that your employer could, legally, fire you. Even so, there might be other actions you can take like legally preventing him from barring you from future employment, etc.
Remember: every state and every case is different. Employment law looks fairly straightforward on the surface, but it is very nuanced. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and see professional help if you think something isn’t right.