At Will Employment

It is truly amazing how many employees I’ve talked to who don’t know if they live in employment at will states. Hi, my name is Yancey and most of them don’t even know what it means.

A lot of employees are surprised to find that employers can fire them for almost any reason, a possibly unfair reason or no reason.

Employment is presumed to be voluntary and indefinite for the employee and the employer. You as an employee can quit your job for whatever excuse and whenever you want. However, employers can fire you for whatever excuse and whenever they want under at-will doctrine.

Due to a lot of lawsuits in the 80’s involving employment at will states, the Model Employment Termination Act (META) was created. Under the Act employers must show ”good cause” to fire an employee. I have seen in my professional career many an employee including myself terminated for so called “good or just cause”. There have been many abuses, biases and corruption hidden behind “good cause”.

The laws dealing employee terminations are different state to state. It makes sense to learn what the laws are in your state. In employment at will states, the courts have a tendency to maintain the “common law” of employment at will. That means that courts make decisions on a case-by-case basis. They have the duty to “make” law by precedent or what’s gone before.

employment at will states

Then the body of precedent is called “common law” and it influences future judgments. That’s why its always best to consult an attorney if and when you’re fired from a job and you believe its unlawful.

Employment at will policy

The employment-at-will doctrine has been very powerful in America even when employers had weak cause for termination. However, many employees have sued and won in employment at will states. I’m an employee who has successfully applied the wrongful termination law to get reinstated to my position after being fired for alleged insubordination.

Again, the purpose of this site is to help my fellow employees. As I said before its best to have an attorney when you need one. Trust me if you sue, your employer will have his or hers. There is comparatively a small number of laws that shield workers from wrongful termination. Also there is no universal protection from being treated unfairly on the job.

Employment at will laws come into play most often when the employer wants to fire the employee at anytime. An environment of mistrust and fear of no employment security is created for the employee. Employees can help the employer in preventing wrongful termination lawsuit cases by educating themselves.

employment at will states

Employment At Will

There are various laws that the employer might violate which would mean wrongful termination to the employee. Employees can help the employer in preventing wrongful termination lawsuit cases by educating themselves. Some examples of wrongful termination could be…
  • an employee on jury duty
  • the employer violating its own discharge policy
  • the employer violating state or federal law
  • because the employee would break the law
among others. Also wrongful termination might apply if the employer fires the employee in retaliation for…
  • whistle blowing
  • taking (FMLA) Family Medical Leave Act
  • exercising reasonable employment and labor rights laws
  • taking advantage of union rights
  • serving in the military reserve

Appropriate laws empower employees who have been wrongfully terminated to receive justice by complaining to relevant government agencies. These departments of government enforce the law. As employees we have the option of filing a private lawsuit as well. How much would wrongful termination complaints cost?

employment at will states

Medical Condition Wrongful Termination

Several years ago an article in the San Francisco Chronicle reported a jury award of $11 million to a former saleswoman for Mary Kay Inc. According to the article the saleswoman was a top sales leader. When found to be pregnant and having breast cancer, the company refused to change her expected $8,000 monthly sales quota because of her serious medical conditions.

The saleswoman was the leader of a very successful team of sales people. Two months after the birth of the saleswoman’s child, she was too ill to work. The saleswoman said Mary Kay, Inc. sent her a threatening letter claiming job loss if her sales quota for the current month wasn’t met.

The article stated Mary Kay provided testimony of lessening the sales expectations of the saleswoman’s team after learning of her medical conditions and the threatening letter was a mistake. The company also maintained that the saleswoman was an independent consultant.

However, the court determined that the saleswoman was entitled to the same legal protections as employees when discrimination is practiced related to a medical condition. Hoorah! Hoorah!

employment at will states

At will employment has some major exceptions. These exceptions seek to prevent wrongful discharge or wrongful termination.
Covenant of good faith and fair dealing
A breach of an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing is a standard in eleven states. This is the most noteworthy exception because it has been interpreted by courts that personnel decisions are subject to a “just cause”. It also means that firing employees in “bad faith” or malice should be banned.

Implied contract
An employer may not fire an employee even though no specific writing regarding the employment relationship exists, when the implied contract is formed. Implied contracts can be difficult to prove and the burden is on the employee.

Personnel policies and employee handbooks that specify an employee not be terminated except for good cause or indicate a course of action for firing, usually involve implied contracts. An employer may be held liable for a breach of contract if the employee’s firing violates an implied employment contract. There are thirty eight states that recognize implied contracts as an at will employment exception.

Public Policy
This exception prohibits an employer from terminating an employee if it would violate a state or federal law. For example an employer may not fire an employee for refusing to break the law at the employer’s request. Another example would be if the employer fired the employee for filing a worker’ compensation claim. Forty-three states recognize this exception as the most widely accepted.
Promissory Estoppel
Under promissory estoppel the employee must demonstrate…
  • his/her employer made a clear and specific promise
  • the employee relied or counted on that promise
  • the employees reliance was reasonable and foreseeable
  • the employee was damaged or injured as a result of the employer not fulfilling that promise
There must be a promise of continued employment to the employee for a definite period of time. This is a general description of promissory estoppel. Reviewing the particular issues of a situation with a qualified employment law attorney will determine if this exception applies.

employment at will states

Some types of employees are not considered as at will employed. These workers have more protection and the employer must have “just cause” to fire them. Employees in these groups would be…
  • returning military service employees protected under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. (USSERA)
  • government workers-civil service, state, local and federal.
  • employees in certain states-Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Arizona or Montana.
  • employees with contracts.
Nearly all states have anti-discrimination laws that cover employers having fewer than 15-20 workers. Unfortunately neither state or federal anti-discrimination law covers small employers with one or only a few employees.

Employee Rights Attorney

It always makes sense for an unfairly terminated employee to seek the advice of a qualified attorney when determining wrongful termination or discrimination. In employment at will states, it’s prudent to get that advice as soon as possible because statutes of limitations usually apply. This means that you have a specific amount of time to file a complaint.

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