Most employment contracts or offer letters state that the employee is “at will”. So what does this mean?
If you are an “at will employee” you can be fired from your job for any reason, provided that the reason for your termination does not violate any laws. Thus, unless the employee has an employment contract that says otherwise, your employer can terminate the employee’s employment without just cause and without giving the employee a warning. Similarly, an “at will” employee can depart from employment without any reason or warning or notice to the employer.
As an at will employee, an employer can terminate the employee for good cause, bad cause or no cause at all.
Today many employees will receive offer letters that clearly set forth that the new employment relation is “at will”. This “at will” relation is typically reaffirmed in an employer’s handbook or policies distributed to its employees. The majority of employees at most companies are “at will” employees, as contracts with fixed employment terms are commonly reserved for the high level executives of the company.
Exceptions to the “at will” relation do exist. An employer cannot terminate an employee’s employment, even if the employee is an “at will” employee, if doing so would violate the law. Thus, the employee cannot be terminated so that the employer does not have to pay the employee an earned bonus, because the employee filed for workers’ compensation, because the employee appeared in court under a subpoena for jury duty, because the employee refused sexual advances of the employer, or because the employee reported the employer’s illegal acts to authorities, or if the decision to terminate the employee was based on the employee being a member of a protected class, among other reasons.
There are pros and cons to the “at will” relation. One pro is that it is easier for an employee to depart from the company. Some cons being that employers are quicker to fire employees and not to modify the work environment, if needed.
Donath Law, LLC can help you understand the “at will” relationship. For more information or to have your offer letter/ employment contract reviewed prior to your accepting employment or if you are thinking of departing from your employment, contact Sheree Donath at Sheree@DonathLaw.com to schedule a consultation.