Hi. My name is Alex Hartzband and I'm an employment attorney at Faruqi & Faruqi. Whether your employer can fire you for complaining about unlawful activity depends, actually, on the nature of the unlawful activity itself. That's what's going to dictate whether your complaint is considered protected under the law. Employees cannot be fired by their employers for making protected complaints. That would amount to retaliation. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of federal, state and local statutes that dictate exactly what types of complaints are considered protected.
For example, under federal law, complaints of discrimination or wage violations are considered protected, and therefore your employer should not be able to fire you for making them. Additionally, if you work for a publicly traded company, your employer cannot fire you for complaining about various types of fraud. It should also be noted that many states provide additional protections to whistleblowers.
For example, employees in New Jersey cannot be fired by their employers for complaining about, refusing to engage in, or reporting any type of unlawful conduct by their employers.
Of course, every complaint needs to be analyzed on a case-by-case basis, and whether your complaint is considered protected will hinge on several factors, including your reasons for believing that your employer is breaking the law, the nature of the unlawful conduct itself and even the way you phrase your complaint.
If you believe that your employer has fired you because you complained about unlawful conduct, we encourage you to reach out to an employment attorney as soon as possible.