At-will employment is an employer – employee relationship where no contractual obligations exist between the parties. Either party may end the relationship at anytime, with or without cause. However, the employer must ensure no at-will exceptions have been violated. If the employee feels he or she has been discriminated against through any of the at-will exceptions, suit may be brought against the employer. Not all states recognize all exceptions to at-will employment, so the employee should understand what exceptions his or her state does recognize prior to proceeding with bring a suit against the employer.
Several exceptions to at-will employment exist; however, some are only recognized in some sates.
Violation of Public Policy: At least 44 states recognize this as an exception to at-will employment and uphold it in court cases against employers. Essentially, violations of public policy include motives of bad faith, retaliation, or malice against an employee by an employer. Whistle-blowing has also been added to public policy and has been expanded beyond federal employees through state legislation in 39 states.
Implied Contract: As an exception to at-will employment, implied contract occurs when a verbal, or implied, contract arrangement is created between an employer and employee, such as during preemployment. No physical contract must be signed, only a verbal statement or agreement. In addition, an employee manual may also for am implied contract if specific wording is included, even if a disclaimer is included, unless the disclaimer meets the requirements of that state.
Promissory Estoppel: This is another exception to at-will employment and is similar to implied contract; however, the promise expressed is not to the level of a contract. To bring suit against an employer for promissory estoppel, the employee must prove that the promise made by the employer was taken in good faith and damaged the employee economically.
At-will employment does exist; however, so many exceptions to at-will exist that employers find it difficult to terminate an employee at-will. Cases do exist where at-will has been upheld; however, going to court costs the business and employee time, resources, and money. If an employer chooses to terminate an employee at-will,
a great deal of care must be exercised to ensure that nothing can be construed as discrimination, or as any of the exceptions to at-will employment as outlined by that particular state. The employer can save time, money and
resources by only terminating employees for cause and with the proper documentation.
Is your employer an at-will employer?