It is crucial to understand the concept of at will employment in the dynamic landscape of employment in the United States. You will learn about at will employment, its advantages, exceptions, and how it affects employers and employees in this guide.
Whether you’re an HR professional looking for clarity or an employee curious about your rights, this comprehensive guide will help you understand at will employment.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- What Does it Mean to Be an At Will Employee?
- Advantages of At Will Employment
- Exceptions to At Will Employment
- At Will Employment By State
- At Will Employment FAQ
- Applicant Tracking Software ✅
In the United States, at will employment shapes employer-employee relationships.
Basically, it says employers can fire their employees at any time, for any reason, or even without cause as long as they don’t violate specific laws.
This concept is at the core of employment relationships in every part of the country.
That’s why employees and employers should understand how employment at will works.
In this article, we will delve into the definition of at will employment and provide an insightful overview of its workings within the U.S. labor landscape.
By comprehending this core aspect of employment law, you will be able to navigate your rights and responsibilities more effectively in the dynamic American workplace.
Pros of At Will Employment
At will employment has theoretical advantages for both employers and employees. Despite some criticisms and counter arguments, these advantages contribute to the widespread acceptance of this arrangement.
At will employment allows employers to adjust their workforce quickly to changing business needs. Employers don’t have to worry about complex termination procedures or having to prove “just cause”.
It helps businesses manage labor costs efficiently. Employers can reduce overhead by eliminating positions when necessary.
Freedom to Leave
The at will system gives workers the freedom to quit at any time without worrying about legal repercussions.
Opportunities for Mobility
A flexible work environment allows employees to explore new career opportunities without feeling tied to a specific job.
Cons of At Will Employment
It’s important to acknowledge the counterarguments and potential disadvantages of at will employment, especially from the employee’s perspective:
A sense of insecurity is inherent to at will employment, as workers can be fired at any time without warning.
Unequal Bargaining Power
Employees, especially those in low-wage jobs, may have limited bargaining power in negotiating better terms under such an arrangement, since employers can unilaterally terminate employment.
Potential for Unjust Termination
Despite laws protecting employees from illegal termination (like discrimination), employers can fire employees for reasons perceived as unfair or arbitrary without “just cause” requirements.
Common Law Exceptions
In the United States, there are exceptions to at will employment, and those exceptions are rooted in common law. This provides some protection for employees, but it’s not always easy to fall within one of these exceptions. Here’s a look at three of the biggest common law exceptions:
Public Policy Exception
Employees are protected against adverse employment actions that violate public policy.
It’s hard to prove that an employer’s actions are against public policy. Often, state constitutions, statutes, and administrative rules are used.
Notably, the scope and application of this exception vary across states.
Implied Contract Exception
There are implied contracts of employment in 41 states and the District of Columbia. However, proving such an implied contract can be tricky.
The promise of job security or certain termination procedures may be spelled out in employer handbooks, policies, or other written materials.
Implied Covenant of Good Faith Exception:
In some states, there is an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. This can prevent terminations made in bad faith.
There are a lot of examples, like firing an employee just before a big commission is due.
Additional Tort-Based Claims
As well as common law exceptions, at will employees can file tort-based claims to limit their employment rights. These claims include:
Intentional Interference with a Contract
There are cases where employees can sue for wrongful dismissal if a supervisor or coworker with an improper motive causes it. But not all states recognize it.
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
There is a tort of intentional, reckless conduct that causes severe emotional distress. Establishing liability for such a tort can be tricky since courts may not always find it “outrageous” enough.
Employers may be able to use this doctrine if they make clear, unambiguous promises of employment, employees rely on them, the reliance is reasonable and foreseeable, and they get hurt. It can be hard to prove all these things, especially when it comes to employment.
Employees are also protected by several statutory exceptions to at will employment, including:
State and federal discrimination laws prohibit employers from making employment decisions based on protected characteristics.
Employees are protected from adverse employment actions based on these characteristics.
Protections for Off-Duty Activities:
Legal off-duty activities can lead to adverse employment actions in some states. Colorado, for instance, protects legal off-duty activities conducted away from the employer’s property.
Employees who complain about illegal activity or discrimination can’t be retaliated against by their employers under federal and state laws.
About seventeen states have whistleblower laws protecting employees who report wrongdoing by their employers.
The following table breaks down the at will employment states with the exceptions that allow public policy exceptions, covenants of good faith, and implied employment contracts.
|State||Public Policy Exemption||Implied Contract Exception||Covenant of Good Faith|