At-will employment means your employer may terminate you for any reason. Find out whether you qualify as an at-will employee, and what you can do if you feel your employer has wrongfully fired you.
“At-will employment” generally means that your employer may fire you at any time, for any reason, and without warning.
In other words, employers do not need to justify your termination with “good cause,” so long as the termination is otherwise legal. The termination may be illegal if it violates any state or federal law, such as anti-discrimination statutes. As an at-will employee, you may also leave your job at any time, for any reason.
Under federal law and most state laws, you are presumed to be an at-will employee unless your employer indicates otherwise. Your employer may tell you explicitly that you are an at-will employee by including this information in your contract.
You are likely an at-will employee if your employer uses language such as:
You are probably not an at-will employee if your employer uses language such as:
Under certain circumstances, your at-will employment status can be overridden. For instance, if you are hired under a contract that provides specific terms stating that you may only be terminated for just cause, then you are not presumed to be an at-will employee.
Government or public employee are not at-will employees. Civil service laws require that employees must be fired for good cause.
If your contract states that you have job security, you can only be fired if you violate another part of that contract. For example, if your employer agrees by contract to employ you for 2 years, then your employer may not fire you before the 2 years are up without good cause.
States have their own laws related to at-will employment, so it is important to verify what the laws are in your state. However, all states must abide by federal anti-discrimination laws. The federal statutes provide that no person may be terminated on the basis of specified classifications such as race, gender, and religion.
Most state laws prohibit most employers from firing employees for malicious reasons, called the “duty of good faith and fair dealing.”
Additionally, state laws often prohibit employers from terminating employees for reasons that violate public policy, such as for reporting law violations, exercising legal rights, or refusing to perform illegal acts. One other common exception is the implied contract. If your employer has somehow indicated that your employment is not at-will, and you rely on their indication, then you may have a strong argument that you can only be fired for just cause.
If you believe that you are entitled to just cause for your termination, or that your employer has violated a federal or state law, you may be able to file a civil lawsuit for wrongful termination. Talk to an attorney who specializes in employment and discrimination law to know for certain if you have a cause of action.
Employment Discrimination in the workplace Termination of employment Wrongful termination of employment Types of employment At-will employment State, local, and municipal law Civil rights Discrimination