Georgia is an at-will employment state. This means a worker can be fired for any reason, unless the termination would violate an existing written employment contract or unless the termination would violate state or federal statutes.
There are some common law exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine that have been used by trial courts across the United States. As we will see; however, these exceptions are mostly not applicable in Georgia.
Exception 1: The termination violates public policy
Many courts have recognized that employees should be protected from termination that violates public policy. For example, some courts have ruled that it is wrongful to fire a worker for reporting their employer’s violation of the law.
However, in Georgia, wrongful termination lawsuits cannot be based on violation of common law public policy. This is due, in part, because there are statutes that already address the violation of public policy issues that might give rise to a wrongful termination claim.
Exception 2: The termination violates an implied contract
Most enforceable employment contracts are written. However, some courts recognize oral promises as a type of implied employment contract, and that employers cannot discharge a worker in violation of this implied contract. Other examples of implied contracts might include employee handbooks and written employment policies and practices.
However, Georgia courts do not recognize oral contracts as enforceable employment contracts. In addition, oral promises made by employers do not constitute an enforceable employment contract. In these situations, the at-will employment doctrine remains in place.
Exception 3: The termination in violation of the doctrines of good faith and fair dealing
A few states recognize that employers should not discharge employees in bad faith or with malicious intent. For example, employers should not discharge an employee right before an earned commission is due to be paid. However, Georgia is not one of these states.
Wrongful termination in Georgia
As this shows, while there are some common law exceptions to the employment at-will doctrine, for the most part, they are inapplicable in Georgia.
To prevail in a wrongful termination claim in Georgia, the claim must be based on a violation of state or federal statute or it must be in violation of a valid and enforceable written employment contract. Other exceptions to at-will employment simply are not recognized by Georgia courts.