At-Will Employment States and Rights
What Is At-Will Employment?
At-will employment means that your company can terminate you as an employee at any time without a reason or warning, barring state-specific exceptions. It also means that you can quit at any time without a reason or warning. At-will employment offers flexibility to both the employer and the employee in changing wages or benefits without notice or leaving your job without notice.
How At-Will Employment Works
Employers typically state at-will employment in their written policies and employment-related documents. When hired, you sign an employment contract. Typically, as part of this legal contract, an agreement specifically states the conditions of your at-will employment. In the absence of such an agreement, you may check other employee-related documents or handbooks given at the time of hiring. An employer does not have to state the words “at-will” to claim at-will employment, so if you see other terms, such as “fired for any reason,” it indicates that your employer follows an at-will policy.
As an employee, you do not have to sign an at-will agreement, however, an employer does have the right to refuse to hire you if you do not.
Some situations require you and your employer to follow strict employment guidelines. In the following instances, you are not on at-will employment, which means you could have a legal claim for wrongful termination. Speak with one of our experienced attorneys to ensure your at-will employment case follows your states specific guidelines.
Modified employer contract
If your employment contract has a specific modification that outlines termination only for a specific cause, then you are not an at-will employee. Individual and modified employee contracts are typically negotiated only with high-level employees.
Public policy exception
Your employer cannot fire you if doing so is an action against public interest or a State public policy. For example, an employer cannot terminate you for refusing to break a law on behalf of the company or reporting a violation of the law. However, you must check your state laws, as eight states do not allow a public policy exception – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska, New York and Rhode Island.
41 states and the District of Columbia recognize this type of contract, but it is typically quite difficult for an employee to prove without strong legal help. You may have an implied contract if the employer verbally made statements such as: “You’re the best hire, you have this job for life!” or “We’re a good employer and won’t dismiss anyone without giving them a chance to correct their behavior.” Language like this can sound promising but is typically disregarded by the courts as evidence of wrongful termination.
Good faith and fair dealing
Also known as the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, this exception tried to prohibit a wrongful termination made in bad faith or with malice. For example, an employer cannot fire you so they can avoid paying certain duties, such as your retirement benefits. Another example is firing a salesperson just before paying his or her commission.
Depending on your state, exceptions to at-will employment may be judged differently, so you must understand employment laws and regulations specific to your state. Partner with one of our reputable attorneys to ensure that you have a strong case.
What States Have At-Will Employment?
All states presume employment relationships to be at-will. However, some states have limitations that you should be aware of.
States that do not follow a public policy exception:
- New York
- Rhode Island
States that do not follow an implied contract exception:
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
States that do not follow the covenant of good faith exception:
Legal Options for Wrongful Termination
If you suspect that your case fits the state-specific at-will employment exceptions listed above, then you may have a case for wrongful termination. Here are some options to consider:
Negotiate a Severance Agreement
You may try to negotiate a severance package with your employer. However, be prepared to receive a lowball offer if you do not have legal professional support. Get the support you need with an attorney ready to fight for you who is versed in your state-specific at-will employment policies with this in mind.
File an Internal Grievance
This approach works best before an official termination when a loss of employment feels imminent. If you begin an internal grievance process and then your employer fires you, it may seem like the employer retaliated, which can support your case for wrongful termination. Hire an at-will employment lawyer who will know the specific rules for your state.
File a Union Grievance
If you are part of a union, then you may file a grievance through your organization. To clarify you must refer to your union rules to learn more.
File a Discrimination Claim
If you believe that you were fired based on discrimination against your sex, gender, race or color, religion, national origin, disability, pregnancy, age (age 40 or older), or genetic information, then you may file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This process has specific rules and timelines, so you should hire an at-will employment attorney in your state to support your claim.
File a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit
Filing a wrongful termination lawsuit against your employer can provide the best opportunity to defend your employment rights. With good documentation and evidence, one of our lawyers can help you build a strong case against your employer.
Work With a Lawyer Experienced in At-Will Employment In Your State
If you believe that you are the victim of wrongful termination and want to challenge your state employer’s at-will employment policy, then you must contact an experienced attorney to navigate the settlement and litigation processes. With adequate evidence and knowledge of state-specific exceptions, an attorney versed in at-will employment that can help you engage with your employer to receive reasonable terms for transition compensation or move the claim into litigation and defend your rights.
Be well prepared to take action. Submit a request online or call us today at (866) 345-6784 to get in touch with an experienced lawyer in your area!