At-Will Employment FAQ
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What Is At-Will Employment?
At-will employment means that an employer can dismiss an employee for any reason and without warning. When an at-will employee is terminated, they are denied the right to make a legal claim from the dismissal. Most employee handbooks today contain an at-will employment disclaimer. Most handbooks define what at-will employment and require an employee to sign an acknowledgment of their at-will status at the company.
One of the few exceptions to at-will employment can be found in workplaces with a recognized trade union created for collective bargaining and in public sector positions that require that a dismissal was for "just cause".
What Is an Employment Contract?
An employment contract is essentially a contract between and employer and an employee. Most employment contracts provide terms agreed upon by the employer and employee. Typical terms include salary, benefits, hours, and what is considered confidential information.
However, if an employment contract provides the term of employment (a period of months, years, until completion of a project, or indefinite), the contract could protect an employee from unlawful dismissal. Additionally, some employment contracts will outline specific grounds for termination. If an employer if fired for grounds not included in the employment contract, the employee could have grounds for a claim of breach of contract.
Do I Have Rights as an At-Will Employee?
As stated above, if you are an at-will employee, your employer does not have to give a reason for terminating you. However, an at-will employee does have a right not to be terminated for reasons that are illegal under state and federal law.
State and federal laws have outlined exceptions to the general rule of at-will employment:
- You have a right not to be terminated based on your race, religion, or gender.
- You may not be terminated for complaining about discrimination or harassment, or about health and safety violations in your workplace.
- You have the legal right to take family and medical leave, take leave to serve in the military, or to take time off of work to vote or serve on a jury.
Do I Have a Claim for Wrongful Termination?
When an employer has termination your employment for an unlawful reason, you may have a claim for wrongful termination. Examples of illegal reasons for termination include discriminatory firings, firing as a form of sexual harassment, and retaliatory firings in response to an employee filing a complaint or claim against the employer.
If you were terminated for any of the above reasons, even if you were an at-will employee, you may have a claim for wrongful termination.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
If you have questions about whether you are an at-will employee, contact an employment attorney to help you. If you have been wrongfully terminated, an experienced employment law attorney can help you defend and protect your rights in your claim.
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Last Modified: 02-06-2015 02:38 PM PST
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