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Nevada: Exceptions to “Employment At Will”


Victims of Nevada wrongful termination may have the option to hire a lawyer for wrongful termination to sue their former employer in order to get their jobs back.

The following may also apply:

  • Lost pay, including interest
  • Suffering and pain caused by the termination
  • Punitive damages
  • Court costs and attorney’s fees

Three main exceptions apply to Nevada’s status as an “employment-at-will” state. Employers in Nevada with 15 or more employees are generally not allowed to fire anyone for any of the following reasons.

  • Termination breaches the contract between employer and employee
  • Termination is discrimination against an employee based on race, nationality, or religion.
  • The employee was terminated in retaliation for violating legal protections (e.g whistleblowing).

This article, by our Las Vegas lawyer for wrongful termination, discusses the following:

1. Definition of at-will employment

2. Exceptions to at-will employment

2.1. Breach of Contract

2.2. Discrimination

2.3. Retaliation

3. Damages

3.1. Benefits and lost pay

3.2. Pain and suffering

3.3. Punitive Damages

Nevada is considered an At-Will Employment State, but there are exceptions.

1. Nevada’s definition of at-will employment

Nevada is an employment state that is “at-will”. This means employers are allowed to fire their employees for practically any reason, regardless of whether or not it is reasonable.

Employers can fire employees for their annoying voices as well as for being late. Employees cannot sue their former employers for firing them unfairly or for frivolous reasons.

However, as we will see in the next section, there are three scenarios where employers cannot legally fire employees.

Nevada: Exceptions to “Employment At Will”


Victims of Nevada wrongful termination may have the option to hire a lawyer for wrongful termination to sue their former employer in order to get their jobs back.

The following may also apply:

  • Lost pay, including interest
  • Suffering and pain caused by the termination
  • Punitive damages
  • Court costs and attorney’s fees

Three main exceptions apply to Nevada’s status as an “employment-at-will” state. Employers in Nevada with 15 or more employees are generally not allowed to fire anyone for any of the following reasons.

  • Termination breaches the contract between employer and employee
  • Termination is discrimination against an employee based on race, nationality, or religion.
  • The employee was terminated in retaliation for violating legal protections (e.g whistleblowing).

2.1. Breach of contract

Some jobs require an “employment contract” (or collective bargaining agreement) between the employer(s) and the employee(s). These agreements usually spell out the terms and conditions of employment.

Signs That The Termination Was A Breach Of Contract

Employers cannot fire employees if they are in breach of a contract.

Example: Fred hires Julie to be his political consultant. The contract for one year states that Julie can’t be fired if his poll numbers are higher than 50%. Fred fires Julie after six months even though Jim has poll numbers in the sixties. Julie could sue Fred for violating his employment contract by firing her despite the fact that his poll numbers were above 50%.

You should note that employment contracts can be written or oral, and some may even take the form of a handbook for employees.

2.2. Discrimination

Nevada law forbids employers from firing employees due to the employee’s:

  • Race or color
  • Nationality
  • Religion
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Sex (including being pregnant)
  • Gender identity or expression
  • Sexual orientation

Discrimination is not grounds for legal termination.

Prejudiced employers may try to concoct a non-discrimination-based reason for firing someone to cloak the real, discrimination-based reason. Employees who feel they were fired because of prejudice should gather all evidence that supports their beliefs. Text messages, emails, and eyewitness accounts are all examples. An employment lawyer needs some kind of evidence in order to bring a wrongful termination case.

2.3. Retaliation

Employers are allowed to fire employees who do not act in the best interest of the company. Employers cannot fire employees in retaliation for employees who take adverse action that is “protected.” Here are ten examples of “protected” actions:

  • Employee files a workers’ comp claim
  • Refusing to break the Law
  • Reporting for jury duty
  • Participating in an investigation into employment discrimination, hours, or wages
  • Making use of legal products while not on duty that are not allowed at work
  • Take collective action to improve wages, working conditions, and work conditions (such as by joining a union).
  • Whistleblowing
  • By filing a discrimination claim against an employer
  • Requesting FMLA time
  • Refusal to work in unsafe environments

Employers are required to have worker’s compensation insurance in order to cover employees’ expenses if they get injured on the job. Employers cannot fire employees in retaliation to workers’ compensation claims unless it was wrongly filed.

2.3.2. Refusing to Break the Law

Employees who refuse to follow their employer’s orders for illegal activity are generally not eligible to be fired.

Employees shouldn’t be fired for refusing to break the law or for taking “protected action”

Example: Carl is a CPA at a large accounting firm. His boss is not happy with latest projections so he asks Carl for help to alter the numbers so that their clients are satisfied. The boss could not legally fire Carl if he refuses to alter the books. Altering the books is against the law.

It would not be relevant in the above example if clients didn’t lose money. Jim might refuse to obey the boss’s orders to violate the law, even though there is very little chance that someone will be hurt.

2.3.3. Jury duty

All citizens who are eligible can legally be called upon to serve in jury duty. Employers in Nevada generally cannot fire employees who are absent from work because they have been called to jury duty. Additionally, employees should not lose vacation or sick time by going to jury duty.

2.3.4. Participating in an investigation

Participation in law enforcement investigations regarding the following matters is generally exempt from termination.

  • Wages for employees
  • Hours of work and/or
  • Employment discrimination

The employer cannot fire an employee even if he or she testifies against the employer.

2.3.5. Use of products that are legal while off duty

Employers may ban legal products use at work, but employees cannot be terminated for using them while off duty. Some common examples of legal products that could be banned in a workplace are:

  • Guns
  • Cigarettes
  • Alcohol

Employers are allowed to fire workers if using any of the above has a negative impact on their work performance. For instance, employees who stop drinking before they arrive at work but are still intoxicated can legally be fired.

2.3.6. Taking proactive action to improve work conditions

Employers are generally not allowed to fire employees for taking proactive action in order to improve their working conditions. These types of activities would include the following:

  • Unionizing
  • Participating in protests
  • Attending union meetings
  • Making posts on social media

The employer may fire employees if they don’t take precautions to ensure that their actions aren’t dangerous or violent.

2.3.7. Whistleblowing

Employers in Nevada are forbidden from firing employees who report illegal activities to outside agencies. The following are a few examples:

A hygienist reports dental malpractice of his boss at the State Dental Board

The FDA was notified by a pharmacist of contaminated drugs at his pharmacy.

A company accountant reports fraud to the SEC

2.3.8. Employment Discrimination Claim Filing

Employers cannot terminate employees’ employment because they are part of a protected class. Employees thus terminated may file a claim with the:

  • Nevada Equal Rights Commission (NERC), or
  • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

2.3.9. Taking Time Off By Utilizing FMLA

Employers with 50 workers or more are required to comply with the Family Medical Leave Act. Utilizing FMLA time is not a legal basis for termination. Therefore, employees working for such a company who take FMLA leave from work may not be fired for the following:

  • Maternity leave
  • Injury or illness
  • Caring for an incapacitated family member and/or
  • Addressing emergencies that arise from a relative’s service in the military

The FMLA typically guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid leave without the fear of losing their job.12

2.3.10. Unsafe conditions

Employers cannot fire employees who refuse to work in unsafe conditions.

Example: John works as a receptionist. He smells a gas leak one day. His boss tells him to continue working and ignore the gas leak. His boss could not legally fire John if he refuses to work because he is in danger of being contaminated by gas.

You should note that if the office was only smelling bad, such as from fumes coming from nearby restaurants, the boss could legally fire Tom if he refuses to work there.

3. Wrongful Termination Damages

In some cases of wrongful termination, judges may order punitive damages. A judge can also order the defendant to pay attorney’s fees or that the person be allowed to return to work after being wrongfully fired. Plaintiffs who were fired under an “at-will” exception may be able to sue their employer to recover damages and wrongful termination, including the following:

3.1. Benefits and lost pay

In a case of wrongful termination, plaintiffs can sue for all money, including interest, they would have received if they had not been fired. This includes:

  • Salary And Wages,
  • Gratuities,
  • Overtime Wages,
  • Bonuses,
  • Insurance,
  • Pensions And 401k Plans
  • Profit-Sharing, And/Or
  • Stock Options
  • Future Earnings That Could Be Lost

3.2. Suffering and pain caused by the job loss

To compensate for the plaintiff’s emotional distress, pain and suffering damages can be awarded. This is subjective, so a lawyer for wrongful termination often refers to mental health expert witnesses in order to calculate the plaintiff’s emotional distress.

3.3. Punitive damages

In order to punish the defendant who intentionally hurt the defendant, and to deter others from doing the same, judges can order punitive damages. Because punitive damages can be more severe than compensatory damages, such as back pay or pain and suffering, a lawyer for wrongful termination almost always will push for punitive damages to be granted by the courts.

Call A Lawyer For Wrongful Termination

Are you being fired in Nevada for illegal reasons? For a consultation to discuss your case, our Las Vegas lawyer for wrongful termination is available to speak with you. We will pursue all damages possible, including lost wages, pain, suffering, punitive damages, and reinstating you on your job.

Also check out our article: Unlawful Firing Lawsuits & Claims in Las Vegas Nevada

More on This Subject

Unjust Termination in Nevada

Unjust Termination in Nevada

Nevada Wrongful Termination

Both state and federal laws protect Nevada employees against unjust termination. Employees who are fired for violating anti-discrimination laws or employment contracts may be able to file a claim for wrongful termination against their employer. Each state has its own laws regarding unjust termination. If you have a claim for wrongful termination against your Nevada employer, speak to an experienced Nevada employment lawyer today. A knowledgeable lawyer can help you protect your rights and increase your chances of a favorable result in court.

If you’ve been the victim of employment, hourly wage, or labor-related violations, please contact us for assistance.

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