The bedrock principle underpinning Georgia employment law is the employment at-will doctrine. Under Georgia law, employees are considered to be at-will unless there is some other understanding between the employer and employee. (O.C.G.A. § 34-7-1). Typically “some other understanding” is shown through an agreement the employment be for a set term. For example, language in an agreement of something like “employee and employer agree this agreement shall last for 12 months from the date of execution.”
What does it mean to be an at-will employee? According to one of the leading Georgia Supreme Court cases on the subject, it means that motives of an employer in terminating an at-will employee are legally immaterial. (Georgia Power Co. v Busbin, 242 Ga 612). Because the reason for termination is legally immaterial an employer can fire an employee for any reason or no reason, good reason or bad reason. The reason behind the termination does not matter. Georgia employment law gives employers broad discretion in deciding who will work for them.
Georgia employment law limits courts in their ability to create judicial exceptions to the employment at-will doctrine. Judicial exceptions are where the court says “in this situation we ignore the employment at-will doctrine”, without the legislature having codified the exception into the Georgia Code. Because of this judicial doctrine most of the Georgia exceptions to employment at-will must be put into the Georgia Code by the legislature passing a bill into law. The Georgia legislature has not seen fit to put many exceptions to employment at-will into the law.
The few Georgia law exceptions to employment at-will include, but are not limited to:
Employers may not discriminate based on an employee’s age or disability. Public employers (i.e. government agencies whether state or local) may not discriminate based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, or age.
Public employees are protected by whistleblower statutes that protect a public employee who takes certain whistleblowing actions from reprisal by their public employer.
Employees may not be fired for taking time off to vote in primary or general elections.
Employees may not be fired for attending a judicial proceeding under court order.
There are other laws that may apply to your situation. As always, talk to a lawyer to get advice that is tailored to your situation.
Many employee rights in Georgia come from federal employment laws. Federal law has additional protections that are not necessarily available under Georgia law. When looking for a lawyer for your employment case, make sure they are admitted to practice in Federal Court and have experience with federal law.
Regardless of why you were fired you may still be entitled to unpaid overtime or minimum wage. No matter why you were terminated, or even if you quit, a person can not forfeit their right to unpaid overtime or minimum wage. Even if you signed a document or possibly even if you received a severance payment in exchange for you giving up your right to sue for unpaid overtime or minimum wage you might still be able to sue your former employer for unpaid overtime or minimum wage.