Hoping to make “employment at-will” a thing of the past, Senator Ana Quezada (District 2 Providence) has introduced legislation intended to protect employees from wrongful termination. Quezada’s bill (S0169) would end Rhode Island’s “employment-at-will” legal doctrine, and would provide some job protection for employees that satisfactorily perform their duties. The act would also provide specific remedies for wrongful discharge.
“Rhode Island is one of only a handful of states that has no public policy regarding at-will employment,” said Senator Quezada at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “This can lead to competent, capable and hard-working employees suddenly losing their jobs for no good reason. We owe it to all our workers to provide them with a modicum of protection and not leave their job security up to the vagaries of employers.”
At-will employment means that an employer can terminate an employee at any time for any reason, except an illegal one, or for no reason without incurring legal liability. It also means that an employer can change the terms of the employment relationship with no notice and no consequences. For example, an employer can alter wages, terminate benefits, or reduce paid time off. In its unadulterated form, the US at-will rule leaves employees vulnerable to arbitrary and sudden dismissal, a limited or on-call work schedule depending on the employer’s needs, and unannounced cuts in pay and benefits.
In Senator Quezada’s legislation, wrongful discharge would consist only of firing someone for refusing to break the law, if the discharge was not for a good cause after the employee’s probationary period, or the employers violated the provisions of their own personnel policy. The law would also establish a probationary period of 90 days for those employers who do not have a specific probationary period.
“This law would also provide remedies to employees who feel they have been wrongfully discharged,” said Senator Quezada. “There are few things more important in life than job security. And losing a job for no good reason can be a tremendous blow, especially if you have a family to support.”
Under the legislation, if an employer has committed a wrongful discharge, the employee may be awarded lost wages and fringe benefits for a period not to exceed four years from the date of discharge, together with interest on the lost wages and fringe benefits.
The bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee where co-signer Frank Lombardi (District 26, Cranston) has a seat. Also cosponsoring the bill are Senators Jeanine Calkin (District 30, Warwick), Elizabeth Crowley (District 16, Central Falls, Pawtucket) and Harold Metts (District 6, Providence).