Pennsylvania is an employment at will jurisdiction, which means that absent an employment contract or union agreement providing otherwise, an employer can terminate an employee for any reason, or no reason at all, unless the termination violates a specific law (i.e. discrimination laws which prohibit discrimination in the workplace based on age, race, sex, relation, national original or disability) or the termination reflects a violation of a public policy embodied within a particular law. In Roman v. McGuire Memorial, 2015 Pa Super 232 (November 9, 2015), the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed a non-jury verdict favor of an employee in the amount of $121,869.93 in a wrongful termination claim founded under the public policy embodied within a Pennsylvania state law, the Prohibition of Excessive Overtime in Health Care Act, 43 P. S. §932.1.
In Roman, the employee was employed as a direct care worker at a 24 hour intermediate care facility for mentally retarded individuals which is licensed by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare. The employer has a mandatory overtime policy that required its direct care workers to work mandatory overtime, and if an employee refuses to work overtime, after four refusals, an employee is terminated. Prior to being terminated, the employee had informed the employer that she did not believe that she was required to work overtime as a direct care healthcare worker under the Prohibition of Excessive Overtime in Health Care Act and that her personal circumstances prohibited her from working mandatory overtime during the hours of 11:30 pm to 8:00 am as she had no one to care for her young children.
In Roman, the employee alleged that she was fired in retaliation for her refusal to accept overtime work and that the termination offended the public policy of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania under the Excessive Overtime in Health Care Act. The Superior Court of Pennsylvania reviewed the current state of wrongful termination law in Pennsylvania, noting that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that an employee has a common law action for wrongful discharge where there is a clear violation of public policy in the Commonwealth, however, the exception to the employment at-will rule is applied in the narrowest of circumstances. In the wrongful termination context, Pennsylvania public policy is ascertained by reference to laws and legal precedents by looking to the state Constitution, court decisions and statutes promulgated by the legislature.
In Roman, the Superior Court noted that the employee’s retaliation claim was specifically based on the refusal to work overtime which is directly addressed in a Pennsylvania statute, the Prohibition of Excessive Overtime in Health Care Act, which directly provides that an employee at a health care facility cannot be ordered to work in excess of an agreed to, predetermined, regularly scheduled daily work shift; and the law clearly provides that retaliation against an employee is not permitted, reflecting a public policy as set forth by the legislature. The Superior Court held that given the fact that the employer asked the employee to work an overtime shift, she refused, and then she was terminated from her employment, the employee set forth a valid wrongful termination claim because she alleged that her employer has violated the public policy of the Commonwealth when it discharged her from her employment in direct contravention of Pennsylvania law. Consequently, the Superior Court found that trial judge’s verdict should be affirmed and the employee was entitled to a verdict in the amount of $121,869.93.