Good Cause

Good cause is defined in the legal sense as a sufficient reason for a judge to make a ruling. The term “good cause,” however, is a broad one, and its definition depends upon the circumstances of each individual case. For instance, someone suffering from a serious illness may have good cause for requesting additional time from the court when he might otherwise be barred by the statute of limitations.

Good cause can also apply in an employment situation when dealing with the subject of termination. A company who terminates an employee’s contract because he is failing in his performance is said to have good cause in letting that person go. To explore this concept, consider the following good cause definition.

Definition of Good Cause


  1. Substantial grounds on which to take a certain action, such as the termination of an employee.

What is Good Cause

The term “good cause” can be defined differently, depending on the situation. For example, good cause in the field of law can refer to the evidence that a court will use when making a decision or otherwise ruling on an action. Typically, the language seen in a decision will read something along the lines of: “There being good cause shown, the court orders…” This means that a party to the action has provided a sufficient enough justification for his actions to convince the court to rule in a certain way.

As part of an employment contract, an employee can require his employer to have “good cause” before terminating his employment. Good cause, in this case, is the employee’s failure to perform the duties that are required of him, and that someone in a position similar to his would carry out without a problem; or the employee’s breaking of the rules, or committing of some crime. However, the definition of good cause can be rather vague, and so it is recommended that the parties to an agreement are specific about what constitutes good cause upon the creation of their agreement.

Good Cause for Termination

By far, most employees in the United States work on an at-will basis, which means that the employer can hire and fire them at its will. This means that no reason is required to fire an employee. However, in certain circumstances, an employer must have good cause for termination of a particular employee.

In order for an employer to have good cause for termination, the typical requirement is that the employee did not perform what was expected of him and what another person in his role could easily do in similar circumstances. Good cause for termination results from the employer’s lack of satisfaction with the work the employee performs. Sometimes, however, good cause for termination may have nothing at all to do with the employee’s performance.

In other situations, however, good cause can translate to the employee’s insubordination or failure to follow the reasonable rules that his employer has set for him. Additional examples of good cause for termination can include dishonesty, misconduct toward one’s co-workers, and lying in order to get the job. Someone who lies about his worker’s compensation history, for instance, can be fired on the spot once his employer finds out, and the employer would have good cause to do so.

An employee who takes company property from the premises for personal use without first asking permission to do so can also be terminated for good cause. Good cause can also extend to more severe circumstances, such as fraud, harassment, using alcohol or drugs in the workplace, bringing a weapon onto the premises, or breaking a federal, state, or local law.

Generally, an employment contract that mentions good cause is more beneficial to an employee than at-will employment. An employee who is hired “at will” can be terminated for any reason, or for no reason at all, and the employer is not obligated to give the employee notice before terminating him.

The good cause standard serves as a form of job security for an employee because the employer must bear the burden of proving that he had good cause to terminate the employment. This is something that is most commonly seen in an employment contract for a professional, or executive employee.

Good Cause Exemption from Program Requirements

Good cause is defined differently with regard to programs sponsored by the state. In this case, good cause means that a person is relieved from certain requirements of a state program when he is unable to participate in the program. The reasons that are acceptable for a good cause exemption from program requirements are defined within each program. The individual must make a claim for a good cause exemption from program requirements, and the respective department must approve good cause in order for the person to qualify.

Department programs that can approve a good cause exemption from program requirements include those related to child support, and those that provide assistance to the blind or disabled. Programs that help individuals with their housing and employment needs also consider requests for program exemptions. Such exemptions might include the requirement to provide certain types of information or proof of claim.

In the case of child support exemptions, consider those that the state of Minnesota will allow. Those who provide care for children must help pursue child support, spousal support, and support for child care, else they will be subject to sanctions. However, sanctions will not be imposed, and the caregiver will be forgiven of such responsibilities if he or she can qualify for an exemption. Exemptions are given when someone has good cause for not cooperating with the rules. Some instances wherein good cause is declared include:

  • When the mother conceived the child by way of rape or incest
  • When legal proceedings for the adoption of the child are pending
  • When the parent is in the middle of deciding whether to give the child up for adoption
  • When the parent’s cooperation would result in causing physical or emotional harm to the child
  • When cooperation would cause physical or emotional harm to the caregiver, which would then reduce the caregiver’s ability to properly care for the child

There are many kinds of good cause exemptions, depending on the program. For instance, there are also good cause exemptions in educational programs, such as those offered by the state of North Carolina. Here, the Read to Achieve program will accept good cause exemptions for those students who would otherwise be subject to mandatory retention in third grade. Such exemptions include:

  • Students with a limited English vocabulary who have less than two years of instruction in an English as a Second Language program
  • Students with disabilities which have delayed their educational performance by at least two years
  • Students who show that they are able to read at a third-grade level in an alternative assessment that is approve by the State Board of Education
  • Students who have received reading intervention, and who have previously been retained more than once in any grade from kindergarten through third grade

Good Cause Example Involving a School Budget Cut

An example of good cause being argued before the courts involves a guidance counselor whose employment hung in the balance after his district suffered a severe budget cut. James Rodney Byrd worked as a teacher with the Greene County School District from 1983 to 1988. In 1985, after completing his Master’s Degree, he was hired as a guidance counselor for both the elementary and the junior high schools.

In February of 1988, the Greene County School Board decided that they needed to reduce their staff to offset the cut in the District’s budget, which was large enough that the district expected to feel the sting over the next three years. The Board decided to decrease the number of guidance counselors on the school’s payroll in order to accomplish this. A suggestion was proposed to demote Byrd and another guidance counselor to teachers. However, it was ultimately decided that Byrd’s contract as a guidance counselor would be renewed.

In June of that year, the Superintendent notified the Board of a severe deficit, and so the budget needed to be cut further – immediately. As a result, the Board voted not to renew the contracts for Byrd and 19 other employees. Byrd and his co-workers were sent written notice of the Board’s decision later that month. In the letter, it was clear that the reason for termination had nothing to do with the employees’ performance. The Board cited its lack of funds as being good cause for terminating their employment so that they could get the budget back on track.

Due process hearings were held for Byrd and his co-workers that August. Upon the conclusion of these hearings, the District’s financial crisis was upheld as constituting “other good cause” for the termination or suspension of its staff. It was also recommended that the Board accept the Superintendent’s decision to terminate Byrd’s employment. The Board notified Byrd of its decision not to renew his contract for the following school year.

Byrd appealed the Board’s decision to the Chancery Court of Greene County. The chancellor found that the District’s financial situation did not, in fact, constitute “other good cause” for terminating Byrd’s employment. The chancellor held that the Board’s decision was not supported by sufficient evidence, and ruled the decision to be arbitrary. The Board was ordered to pay Byrd damages totaling over $30,000. This amount was based on the total amount that Byrd would have earned had he worked with the District the following school year.

The District then filed a motion asking that the judgment be amended insofar as the calculation of damages was concerned. The chancellor remanded the case back to the Board to hear the case, as well as for the Board to review the expenses that would be incurred in reducing the damages award. The Board compared the salary Byrd had earned with what he would have earned under a 10-month contract, and found that he was only entitled to damages totaling about $2,000. Byrd appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of Mississippi.

The Court, however, affirmed this new damages amount and agreed that the District’s financial predicament was not, in fact, good cause to rescind Byrd’s contract. However, the Court also “recognized the need for legislation to make provisions for reductions in force.”

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Due Process – The fundamental, constitutional right to fair legal proceedings in which all parties will be given notice of the proceedings, and have an opportunity to be heard.
  • Insubordination – The refusal to obey orders.
  • Sanction – A threatened penalty for violating a law or rule.