A private employee in New Hampshire is presumed to be an at-will employee, meaning an employer may discharge an employee at any time either with or without cause. There are, however, three (3) exceptions to this general rule. First, an employee cannot be discharged simply for being a member of a certain group (e.g. racial minorities, religious minorities, women). Second, an employee cannot discharge in breach of a contract between an employee and his or her employer. Third, and finally, an employee cannot be wrongfully discharged. What this means is that an employee cannot be discharged for refusing to do something that is inconsistent with New Hampshire policy or for doing something consistent with New Hampshire policy. Simply, an employee cannot be discharged in retaliation for doing the "right thing;" and, of course, an employee cannot be discharged for "whistle blowing."

In addition to the exception described above, a simple public employee, such as an office worker in a town, enjoys federal protections against any government, such as the requirement of some due process (i.e. notice and, occasionally, entitlement to a fair hearing), non-retaliation in political or first amendment activity, and other specific protections which have been adopted by the New Hampshire legislature but are only applicable against local governments for certain officers, officials, or employees.

In short, in the employment area, the municipality must obey all the laws applicable to a private employer, all safeguards created under the United States Constitution, specific statutory protections afforded to certain specific officials, officers or employees, and, finally, any and all applicable restrictions of a collective bargaining agreement.

On occasion, employees may derive rights from a poorly drafted personnel manual, which could be construed to create a contractual relationship between a public employee and the town. The procedural and substantive implications of all these laws and rules creates a veritable minefield that can prove difficult for any inexperienced or inadequately trained individual to navigate. Employee management and discipline should be undertaken after consultation with competent counsel.  

Copyright (C) 2012 The Munilaw Group