Kentucky Workplace Discrimination, Harassment, Retaliation, & Job Firing

January 4, 2011

931543_-team_iii-.jpg Kentucky is an "employee at will" doctrine state. In Kentucky your employer can terminate you at any time, with or without reason, and you can quit at any time, with or without reason (provided there is not a written contract to the contrary). The Kentucky Supreme Court has interpreted the "employee at will" doctrine as meaning: "An employer can fire an employee for cause, without cause, or even for cause that may seem to be morally indefensible. It is only illegal if the employer violates a contract, retaliates against an employee for exercising certain legal rights or if the employer takes action in violation of a protected status (discriminates)."Kentucky employee's have very limited protections against bad employers. If a Kentucky employee is fired or suffers negative consequences in the workplace, they must examine the below to consider if they have legal action against their employer.

It is illegal to:
(i) discriminate based upon race, gender, religion, national origin, age, pregnancy, or disability;
(ii) require an employee to lie to a government authority or in an investigation, or take action against an employee who refuses to do such;
(iii) require an employee to violate the law, or take action against an employee who refuses to do such;
(iv) prevent an employee from reporting violation of the law, including civil statutes such as discrimination laws and/or suspected healthcare violations or dangers related to a medical patient's care;
(v) take action against or fire an employee in violation of the terms of a specific written contract of employment between the employer and the employee.

Workplace Sexual Harassments & Harassments In order for work place harassment or discrimination to be actionable, it must be more than personality conflicts and a general dislike of a person, and it must be "severe and so pervasive" so that it "unreasonably interferes with a person's ability to do his/her job." Isolated acts or isolated comments are NOT sufficient under the law to rise to the level to be actionable in court.

Workplace Discrimination
Discrimination has to be based upon one of the following: race, gender, religion, national origin, age, pregnancy, or disability. These are referred to as protected statuses.
Under a discrimination legal action, the discrimination has to be evidenced by either:
(1) direct evidence, which would be the effect of verbally or in writing stating negative expressions or actions towards a person based one of the protected statuses above, or
(2) indirect evidence, which would be a comparison between how protected status persons are treated versus how those who do not fall in the protected status are treated.
As with workplace harassments, the workplace discrimination will not be legally actionable if it is an isolated incident.

Government Employee Whistleblower Protections
It is illegal for a government agency to take action against an employee who in good faith reports a suspected violation of law, fraud, or abuse of authority, to the proper authorities or another government agency.
These persons are referred to as "Whistleblowers."

Healthcare Employee Whistleblower Protections
It is illegal for persons in the healthcare industry to take action against any other person I the healthcare industry for attempting to report any problems, even to their supervisors, which pertain to matters affecting a patient's safety, health or welfare.
These persons are referred to as "Whistleblowers."

Retaliation Claims
A retaliation claim may arise if the employer takes action meant to punish the employee for reporting wrongful/illegal/prohibited conduct to anyone. This includes both within the company and to any outside sources of authority (i.e. the EEOC or police).
It is illegal to:
(1) retaliate against an employee for reporting a criminal act or violation of a civil statute, including reporting only a suspicion of such which later turns out not to be valid;
(2) retaliate against an employee for participating in or providing information to an investigation into a reported criminal matter or civil statute violation, including a discrimination investigation; and
(3) retaliate against an employee in the heath care industry for reporting patient care or safety matters.

Wrongful Discharge/Termination
A wrongful discharge or termination can arise by:
(1) a breach of a written contract of employment. This contract must be in writing and be for a
specific time frame, otherwise without a specific time frame courts will interpret it under the
employment at will doctrine, or
(2) Common law (where no contract exists), which requires that the employer fire the employee in
violation of a public policy, which must be evidenced by a statute that does not afford a
protection to the employee.

A constructive discharge claim is when an employee is forced to quit and then seeks to sue for wrongful termination. A constructive discharge claim may arise if an employer allows a work atmosphere to become so hostile based upon prohibited activity (discrimination or retaliation) that a reasonable employee has no recourse but to leave. Constructive discharge claims are difficult.

Employment related lawsuits are very technical legal processes, and an employee who feels that they have been wronged should consult with an attorney as soon as possible to protect their legal rights.

For more information on the legal rights of persons who have suffered workplace discrimination, sexual harassment, or an illegal firing in Kentucky, contact Kentucky discrimination and harassment attorney Brent T. Ackerson, by emailing Brent (Click here to email Brent) or calling Brent directly at (502) 882-5176 with your legal question.