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Just Cause

A reasonable and lawful ground for action.

Appearing in statutes, contracts, and court decisions, the term just cause refers to a standard of reasonableness used to evaluate a person's actions in a given set of circumstances. If a person acts with just cause, her or his actions are based on reasonable grounds and committed in GOOD FAITH. Whether just cause exists must be determined by the courts through an evaluation of the facts in each case. For example, in Dubois v. Gentry, 182 Tenn. 103, 184 S.W. 2d 369 (1945), the Supreme Court of Tennessee faced the question of whether a plaintiff who leased a filling station had acted with just cause in terminating a lease contract. The defendant station owner argued that the plaintiff had no right under the terms of the lease to terminate it. The court found that the plaintiff had just cause to terminate the lease because the effort supporting WORLD WAR II had created an employee shortage and wartime rationing had placed restrictions on gasoline and automobile parts, making it unprofitable to operate the station.

The term just cause frequently appears in EMPLOYMENT LAW. Employment disputes often involve the issue of whether an employee's actions constituted just cause for discipline or termination. If the employer was required to have just cause for its action and punished the worker without just cause, a court may order the employer to compensate the worker. LABOR UNIONS typically negotiate for a contract provision stating that an employee cannot be fired absent just cause.

Since the 1980s a just cause standard has developed for employees not protected by an employment or a union contract. This standard is an alternative to the traditional employmentat-will doctrine. Under the latter, which has been in place since the late 1800s, employees who do not have an employment contract may be terminated at the will of the employer for any reason, or for no reason. Under the new just cause standard, many jurisdictions now hold an employer to its word where the employer has stated it will not fire employees without just cause.


Bloch, Richard I., George H. Cohen, and Framroze M. Virjee. 2000. "The Changing Face of Just Cause: One Standard Or Many?" Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Arbitrators 53 (annual): 20–54.

Delmendo, Wendi J. 1991. "Determining Just Cause: An Equitable Solution for the Workplace." Washington Law Review 66 (July).

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