Employees often are surprised by their termination because they didn’t see it coming. As far as they were aware, everything was fine and their performance was adequate or better. Therefore, when the axe unexpectedly falls, often they question whether they could legally be fired from their jobs.

The short answer is that yes, an employer can fire their employees for almost any reason or for no reason at all. But there are caveats to that generality. Some of those are detailed below.

If you are an employee who is in a protected class, you usually have a bit more leeway when it comes to taking action for wrongful termination. Under existing federal laws, employers are prohibited from discriminating against workers based on factors like, religion, skin color, race, sex, pregnancy status, national origin, age, citizenship status or disability.

However, this does not mean that those qualified employees cannot be terminated, just that their separation from employment must be based on other reasons. One of the ways employers do this is by laying out a paper trail ahead of the termination. An employee who is suddenly tanking at performance evaluations, being written up for minor infractions that were previously ignored and otherwise coming up short at work should be wary about their job security.

Employers who dismiss a formerly satisfactory worker without laying a foundation of supporting documentation may be on shakier ground if the employee suspects the reason for his or her termination is based on discrimination.

Should he or she decide to pursue a civil case regarding their dismissal, the attorney handling the matter will demand access to the personnel file in question. If it is not littered with write-ups, negative incidents, complaints and poor performance evaluations, or if there is a lack of consistency in the file or the records appear to be doctored, this will be beneficial to the employee in the courtroom.

Other protections may be in place to protect the worker. Some local and state laws offer additional protection from discrimination on the basis of a worker’s sexual orientation.

Specific questions regarding wrongful termination are best handled by legal professionals.

Source: HR Hero, “Firing or Terminating an Employee” Oct. 14, 2014