By Jedidiah McKeehan

From time to time, someone will contact me who has been fired or let go and they will ask me if they have a cause of action against their employer for wrongful termination or retaliatory discharge.  Before I even know any of the facts my default answer is, “probably not.”

Tennessee is an “at will” employment state.  That means that an employer can terminate an employee for any reason, or for no reason at all.  On the flip side, I sometimes have my clients who employ individuals contact me and ask me what the appropriate way is to fire someone who works for them.  I advise individuals to not give them a reason, just tell them that it’s not working out.

An employer is prohibited from discharging an employee on the basis of the employee’s race, sex, age, religion, color, national origin or disability.  So if an employee can show that one of those was the reason they were terminated, then they may actually have a cause of action against their former employer.

There are some other circumstances for which you cannot fire an employee.  Employees cannot be terminated for performing jury duty, for voting in an election, or for being called in to military service, among other things.

Finally, if you actually have an employment contract (which most people do not have), and your employer has breached the terms of your contract by terminating you, then you may have a cause of action against your former employer.

However, unfortunately, due to Tennessee being an “at will” employment state, it is very rare to be able to have a cause of action for wrongful termination or retaliatory discharge.


Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.