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Employment At Will Doctrine Essay Definition

Employment at Will Essay

1422 Words6 Pages

Employment at will is a law that is present in all fifty states in the US; although, in Montana there requires a stated cause for termination. Employment at will creates dissent among employees when they have been terminated for a cause that is thought to be unsubstantial or when no cause is given. There are pros and cons to the presumption, and employees and employers have different views. Employment at will means that the employer can terminate an employee at any time, for any cause without warning. However, even an at-will employee cannot be terminated because of discriminatory reasons. Employment at will also means that an employee can leave a job at any time without the fear of facing any legal consequences. An employer can also…show more content…

Employment at will is a law that is present in all fifty states in the US; although, in Montana there requires a stated cause for termination. Employment at will creates dissent among employees when they have been terminated for a cause that is thought to be unsubstantial or when no cause is given. There are pros and cons to the presumption, and employees and employers have different views. Employment at will means that the employer can terminate an employee at any time, for any cause without warning. However, even an at-will employee cannot be terminated because of discriminatory reasons. Employment at will also means that an employee can leave a job at any time without the fear of facing any legal consequences. An employer can also change the terms of employment without notice and no penalties. Throughout this paper, the two sides to employment at will will be discussed, and different examples of employment at will cases will be given. At its most basic, employment at will is not the best path because it can create feelings of violation and betrayal in the employee and can create a negative public opinion or loss of profit for the business.
In class this session, we discussed the case of a man, John Stone, fired for wearing his Packers tie at work where his boss was a fan of the rival team. In this case, Stone’s boss was a Bears’ fan, which was explicitly known at the dealership and by Stone. When Stone wore his Packer’s tie to the dealership one day, he was fired.

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At-will employment is something most U.S.-based employers are familiar with. But what does this term really mean? Can an employer actually terminate an employee without any reason at all? What are the exceptions?

Defining At-Will Employment

First, let’s start with the definition of “at-will employment.” It does in fact mean that an employer has the right to terminate an employee at any time and for any (or no) reason. It also means that the employee has the right to terminate his or her own employment at any time and for any (or no) reason. There are no predefined legal requirements in terms of notice periods either. This means the termination can be done without any prior notice.

If an employer/employee who is in an at-will employment situation decides to terminate the employment relationship, the other party has no recourse. In the United States, in almost every state (Montana is the exception), an employee is considered to be an at-will employee unless there is proof otherwise, such as an employment contract.

Exceptions to the At-Will Employment Doctrine

Employers need to understand that there are caveats to the above definition. This is because other laws may be broken if a termination is made for an otherwise illegal reason, such as discrimination. Here are some of the exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine:

    • An employee cannot be fired for a discriminatory reason. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, for example, protects employees from discrimination based on race, national origin, religion, color, or sex. For another example, the Americans with Disabilities Act makes it illegal to discriminate against someone because of a disability.
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    • An employee cannot be fired out of retaliation for performing a legally protected action. For example, an employer cannot fire an employee for filing a workers’ compensation claim. Other retaliation-protected actions include:
      • Filing a discrimination or harassment suit
      • Being a whistleblower regarding illegal or unsafe practices
      • Refusing to perform illegal activities
      • Participating in a workplace investigation
      • Requesting reasonable accommodation for a disability
      • Taking legally protected leave from work, such as FMLA  leave
      • Discussing (or complaining about) the working environment or wage and overtime practices

       

    • An employee with a contract that outlines the terms of employment cannot be fired outside of those terms. In other words, contracts supersede at-will employment assumptions. Some states also provide protections for implied (unwritten) contracts. Check your local laws.
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    • An employer who provides some protections in employment policies, such as firing only for just cause, must abide by those protections. In this case, the employer has opted to forgo the at-will option by providing other protections.

As we’ve shown here, terminating an at-will employee is not always as straightforward as it may seem. Employers should also remember that some states have more stringent requirements. Be sure to check state and local laws before making any termination decision.

 
 


About Bridget Miller:

Bridget Miller is a business consultant with a specialized MBA in International Economics and Management, which provides a unique perspective on business challenges. She’s been working in the corporate world for over 15 years, with experience across multiple diverse departments including HR, sales, marketing, IT, commercial development, and training.