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What is At-Will Employment, and Why Does it Matter?

By far the most common type of employment in the United States is what is known as at-will employment. In fact, it is estimated that nearly three quarters of all employees in the U.S. are considered to be at-will employees. But what does it mean for someone to be employed at-will, and why might that matter for you?

 

Explaining At-Will Employment Put in simple terms, at-will employment refers to a type of employment relationship where the employer and employee can both terminate their relationship at any time, for nearly any reason. This means that an employee can choose to quit their job at any time, for any reason, and their employer can likewise fire them for any reason. This type of employment is in contrast to contract employment, where the employer and employee are both bound by the terms of a specific contract that is agreed to before employment begins.

Issues With At-Will Employment While some people will discuss at-will employment as being of benefit to employees, because it gives them the freedom to leave a job they do not like, in reality this employment relationship vastly favors the employer. “Under this rule of law, employers were free to hire workers at will and fire them at any time with or without cause or notice,” notes Steven Sack in his new book, Fired!. This allows employers a lot of latitude to abuse their position to punish workers for anything they find disfavorable, or it did until some exceptions were introduced.

Exceptions to the General Rule of At-Will Employment Regardless of whether someone is employed at-will or if they are bound by an employment contract, there are certain reasons it is always illegal to fire someone. These exceptions include, but are not limited to:

  • Firing someone due to race, religion, sex, skin color, disability status, or being a member of any other protected class of individuals

  • Firing someone for voting or serving on a jury

  • Firing an employee to prevent them from collecting on benefits, such as vacation days or retirement benefits

  • Firing an employee who engages in legally protected speech, including labor organizing or collective bargaining

  • Firing an employee who makes a workplace compensation claim

  • Firing an employee for refusing a polygraph (lie detector) test

  • Firing an employee who reported a violation of labor or employment law, such as a workplace safety violation or discrimination against another employee

What You Should Do If you are employed at-will and you are fired for a reason that is not considered legally valid, you may be able to seek compensation for the harm you have suffered. However, to know what options may be available to you, you should speak to a labor law attorney. They can help you to go over your legal strategy, and work to get you the compensation you deserve.

Steven Mitchell Sack, the Employee’s Lawyer, is a New York employment lawyer with more than 41 years’ experience handling the many aspects of employment law. His new book, “Fired!: Protect Your Rights & FIGHT BACK If You’re Terminated, Laid Off, Downsized, Restructured, Forced to Resign or Quit,” is available in hardback, and contains valuable advice on dealing with employment and labor law issues. To purchase the book, feel free to contact Steven Sack at 917-371-8000 or visit the website at legalstratpub.com. To inquire about a legal matter, please feel free to contact attorney Steven Sack at 917-371-8000 or stevensackatty@hotmail.com.

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