Employment in Nevada is presumed to be “at-will,” meaning your employer can terminate you for any reason, even if you were performing well and did not have any disciplinary issues. However, there are many exceptions to this general rule. One of the exceptions arises when an employee refuses to break the law.
Refusing to Engage in Illegal Conduct
An employer may not terminate you for refusing to engage in illegal conduct. For example, if your employer asks you to falsify documents or to act in violation of a state law or regulation and then fires you because you refused to do what they asked, then that would be wrongful termination. This would be true so long as you knew that what you refused to do was illegal, or you in good faith reasonably believed the conduct to be illegal. See Ainsworth v. Newmont Min. Corp., 128 Nev. 878 (2012); Allum v. Valley Bank of Nevada, 114 Nev. 1313 (1998).
The legal term for this type of claim is “tortious discharge in violation of public policy,” which means that an employer discharges an employee in a way that goes contrary to the laws and standards the government wants to uphold.
How Can I Prove Tortious Discharge?
To prove tortious discharge, you would need to show the following:
- Your employer wanted you to engage in conduct that is illegal, or that you in good faith reasonably believed to be illegal;
- You refused to engage in the illegal conduct;
- Your employer knew that you refused to engage in the illegal conduct; and
- Your employer terminated you because you refused to engage in the illegal conduct.
Keep in mind that you would need to show that your refusal to engage in illegal conduct was the sole or primary reason your employer terminated you. To put it another way, you need to prove that your employer would not have terminated you if you had not refused to engage in the illegal conduct. In legal terms, your refusal was the “proximate” or “legal” cause of the termination.
Also, tortious discharge requires an employer-employee relationship, so if your employer terminates you because a friend or family member refuses to engage in illegal conduct, then you would not have a claim of tortious discharge. See Brown v. Eddie World, Inc., 131 Nev. Adv. Op. 19 (April 16, 2015).
What if I Quit Instead of Being Fired?
You might still have a claim of tortious discharge if you were forced to quit because you refuse to engage in illegal conduct. It is more difficult to win this type of claim, but you can if you prove the following:
- You resigned because you refused to engage in illegal conduct;
- A reasonable person in your position at the time of resignation would have also resigned because of the aggravated and intolerable employment conditions;
- Your employer was aware of the intolerable conditions and how they impacted you;
- Your employer could have remedied the situation.
This type of claims is called “tortious constructive discharge” because although your employer didn’t terminate you, it was as if it terminated you because you were forced to quit to avoid engaging in illegal conduct.
How Can We Help?
If you have evidence that your employer has terminated you because you refused to engage in illegal conduct, then contact us to see how strong your potential case is. If you do have a case, then we can help you through the process of trying to obtain compensation for being wrongfully terminated.