Can my employer fire me for something that happened over 2 years ago just to protect themselves?

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Can my employer fire me for something that happened over 2 years ago just to protect themselves?

I was just terminated from my job and am not completely sure the reasoning is legitimate. I started this job in 01/06 and told them at the time that I went to prison for a felony in 2000. My case was discharged in 02/02 and I have been a model citizen since. I was completely honest with my employer, a local pawn shop, about my past and concerns that I would be handling and selling guns. They assured me repeatedly that it was not a problem since I had served my time. 2 years ago, the ATF came in to do their routine inspection of our gunbook and found an unforseen error that is primarily an error in their system (I can provide more information on this if needed.) They threatened to take the shop’s license and have been investigating ever since. I asked the owner at the time if my job was in jeopardy. He stated that if the license was revoked it would put everyone’s job at jeopardy but for me not to worry. Nothing else was heard about this matter for about a year, then the ATF started asking questions again. About a month ago they decided they were going to revoke the gun license and an appeal was immediately filed. At this time I wrote my statement of the incident in question and met with the lawyer to also give my statement. He told my bosses that I would be an assett on the stand. Middle of last week, the owner of the company came to me and stated that the lawyer had a concern about the fact that I had a previous felony and that I needed to attempt to get a pardon. I was told not to worry about anything, that the company lawyer was on it and would take the necessary steps to help me receive a pardon. I even went online myself to see what was involved in this process and found that it was much easier than I had thought. I called the owner and told him what I had found and told him I would go ahead and start the application process. He told me not to worry about it, his lawyer was going to take care of everything. At this time, I asked again if my job was in jeopardy and was again reassured that it was not. On Friday evening after work, I received a message to meet with my supervisor and the lawyer to talk about the situation. I met them on Saturday morning and the first thing out of my supervisor’s mouth was that they were going to have to let me go because of the situation with the ATF. They are afraid that if the ATF finds out that I have a previous felony they may revoke the gun license and that the owner could be in danger of a felony for knowingly allowing me to handle gun sales and paperwork. She said I needed to apply for a pardon and once that was complete I should be able to come back in 6 months and I should apply for unemployment and they would not fight it. However, they are telling everyone that I resigned because of stress due to the ATF. And when I told them I needed a letter of termination, they wrote “lack of work”. I have always had a great relationship with my co-workers and I don’t want to cause a big problem, but I really don’t feel that what they are doing is right or legal. I have a wife and 4 kids, and I am suddenly left without an income or insurance for myself and my wife (I was told my insurance would stop immediately even though I just made a payment on Wednesday.) I’m really upset because they have fired me to cover themselves and wrongdoing on their part. I was fully honest about everything. Am I wrong or am I just getting the short end in this situation?

Asked on August 30, 2010 under Employment Labor Law, Oklahoma

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

I'm afraid that you have no legal recourse here for wrongful termination.  The fact is that most employment relationships are what is known as "at will". This means that you can choose to work for an employer or not and an employer can hire or fire you for any reason or no reason.  While seemingly unfair it's the law. The exceptions to the above would be if this action was not allowed by virtue of a union contract, employment contract, or official company policy statement.  Additionally, discrimination must not have played a role in your termination.  Absent any of these circumstance your firing was lawful.

The fact is that most employers wouldn't have hired you with such a record.  Frankly, it seems as though they are doing the best they can for you under the circumstances. While I realize this is tough for you and your family, right now you should pursue getting your pardon and hopefully get back to work for them.  Even if you're not re-hired, with a pardon you should be able to get other work.


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