A New York McDonald’s employee recently made headlines when she was fired after she generously picked up the tab for a group of working firefighters. Heather Levia is a 23 year-old mother who had worked at the restaurant chain for 8 years. During a recent shift, a group of firefighters came into McDonald’s for breakfast after fighting a house fire in the neighborhood in freezing temperatures. Levia wanted to show her appreciation for their service, so she paid $83 of her own money to cover the bill for 23 breakfast sandwiches. A second group of the firefighters later came in, and Levia also wanted to cover their tab. She called the store management and the corporate office to see if McDonald’s would donate the food, but she received negative responses from both. Levia then collected enough money from her coworkers and her own wallet to pay for the second $70 order.
As previously discussed on this blog, McDonald’s has been in the news over the past year due to the low wages the multi-billion dollar corporation pays many of its employees. For this reason, the actions of the young, single mother of twins and nursing student seem that much more generous. However, McDonald’s management did not see it that way. In fact, when Levia returned for her next shift, she learned she had been terminated. As it turns out, the firefighters had called the store when they learned employees had paid for the meals. Levia’s manager told her she had
“opened a whole bee’s nest” by paying for the food, though stated the reason for her termination was swearing at a superior. Levia claims she did not swear, but only said the situation was “freaking ridiculous.”
The nature of at-will employment
Though the firing has yet again cast a negative light on the McDonald’s corporation and has sparked outrage online, the corporation technically did not do anything wrong under the law. New York, like Oregon and the overwhelming majority of states, abides by the at-will employment doctrine. This means that an employer may terminate an employee for any non-discriminatory or retaliatory reason, without showing just cause, and without warning. Likewise, an employee has the right to terminate the employment relationship for any reason, as well.
Employers may not, however, terminate an employee for any protected reason, such as race, age, gender, religion, national origin, disability, and more. Oregon employees are also protected for their sexual orientation, marital status, family relationship, and more. If you believe you have been terminated for any of these reasons, you likely have a legal claim against your employer. However, as wrong as Heather Levia’s termination may seem, McDonald’s does not seem to have broken any employment laws in this situation.
If you are an employee or employer and have any questions regarding at-will employment, do not hesitate to contact HKM Employment Attorneys for assistance today.