Can I be fired for refusing to participate in or remain silent about illegal activities?

In Tennessee the answer is no; An employer may not discharge or terminate an employee for refusing to participate in or remain silent about illegal activities.

In Tennessee, the general rule is that most employees may be fired at any time-for any reason or for no reason at all-under what is known as the at-will employment doctrine. However, Tennessee recognizes a public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine. An employer may not discharge an employee in a manner that violates a clear public policy. An employee has a cause of action-in other words, the employee may sue-for retaliatory discharge when the motivation for the discharge violates public policy.

In order to be succesfull on a claim for retaliatory discharge and employee must show the following:

(1) that an employment at will relationship existed;
(2) that the employee was discharged;
(3) that the reason for the discharge was that the employee attempted to exercise a statutory or constitutional right, or for any other reason which violates clear public policy, including refusing to participate in or remain silent about illegal activites; and
(4) that a substantial factor in the employer’s decision to discharge the employee was the employee’s exercise of protected rights or compliance with clear public policy.
If an employer is found liable for the retaliatory discharge of one of their employees, the employer may be liable for all actual damages suffered by the employee as well as punitive damages.

In addition to suing an employer for retaliatory discharge, Tennessee has enacted the Tennessee Public Protection Act. This act clearly states “No employee shall be discharged or terminated solely for refusing to participate in, or for refusing to remain silent about, illegal activities”. Note the language is different under the statute than in the retaliatory discharge claim in that to prevail under this statute; an employee must be able to prove they were discharged solely for refusing to participate in, or refusing to remain silent rather than the action playing only a substantial factor in the termination. Should an employee prevail under this statute, they would be entitled to recover their actual damages as well as attorney fees and the costs of the lawsuit.

Our TN lawfirm handles cases dealing with whistleblower protection and retaliatory discharge and we would be glad to speak with you regarding your specific situation.

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