What Does ‘At Will Employment’ Mean?
Employment law in the United States is comprehensive, and can often lead to a great deal of confusion. The major statutes and regulations of employment law are usually dictated by the US Department of Labor. The problem is that many workers start a job and aren’t sure what their rights are.
Are you an employee who signed a contract without fully understanding the specifics of it? If so, it’s recommended that you familiarize yourself with the basics of employment law. This is because employment law affects how much money you make, how many hours you work, the benefits you are entitled to, and the safety perimeters that should be met in the place you work.
Therefore, the more you know about employment law, the better off you will be. If you don’t know the minimum wage rate, how will you know if you’re being paid a fair wage? If you are asked to work overtime, how do you know you’re being paid the correct amount? These are just a few examples that demonstrate how important it is for employees to learn about employment law. Arming yourself with this knowledge means that you can protect yourself in the workplace.
One such employment law is the ‘at will’ employment law. This is one you really need to know about, because it can make the difference between being hired and fired.
What is ‘At Will’ Employment?
‘At will’ employment basically means that a person is employed at the discretion of the company they work for. This means that they can be fired at will by the employer. In other words, if a person works as an ‘at will’ employee, they can do good work, turn up on time, be reliable, and still end up without a job. They can be terminated even if they haven’t done anything wrong.
Not only this, but an employer using ‘at will’ prerogatives can change the terms of the job contract at any time, without having to provide notice or cause. This means that if you are hired under an ‘at will’ contract, your boss can decide to reduce your wages, cut benefits, and deduct time off without any fear of legal consequences. They can also change your role in the company. This means they can promote or demote you, change your responsibilities, or even decide that they want you to work in a completely different area within the company. If you start as a dishwasher, they can decide to make you a waitress.
Is There Anything Good About ‘At Will’ Employment?
This is certainly a reasonable question, because at first glance ‘at will’ employment doesn’t seem to benefit the employee. When you start a job, it is logical to assume that your job will be secure as long as you fulfill your responsibilities and prove yourself to be a hard worker. ‘At will’ employment removes this feeling of security, and anyone entering into such employment is essentially going in blind.
However, there is one aspect of ‘at will’ employment that benefits the worker. The unpredictability goes both ways, meaning that an employee hired at will can leave their job without giving any notice or valid reason.
What States Use ‘At Will’ Employment Measures?
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, all states except Montana use ‘at will’ employment measures. America is one of only a handful of countries where this is the case. Most countries throughout the world only allow an employee to be terminated if there is a just cause. Despite the fact that ‘at will’ employment can be a scary prospect for workers, it is justified as a procedure because it promotes freedom for both parties.
States that Include Exceptions to ‘At Will’ Employment
Luckily, even though most states utilize ‘at will’ employment, there are still a number of exceptions to ‘at will’ employment legislation. Forty two states implement what’s known as the public policy exception. This means that an employee cannot be terminated if it conflicts with the public policy doctrine of the state. The eight states that do not use this exception are Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska, New York, Rhode Island, and Florida. Other exceptions to the ‘at will’ employment principle include implied contracts and covenant of good faith and fair dealing exceptions.
Are You an ‘At Will’ Employee?
If you are currently employed and are not sure if you are an ‘at will’ employee, it’s quite easy to find out if you are. The law in America typically defines any worker as an ‘at will’ employee unless you can prove otherwise. This is why it is important to thoroughly examine an employment contract before signing it.
If you’re reading this and genuinely don’t know if you are an ‘at will’ employee, it’s time to look through your employment documents again. Look for any written policies, handbooks, applications, and job evaluation documents that you have received during your time of employment. Next, read through them carefully. If there is nothing in these documents about your job security, then you are usually employed ‘at will.’ If the documents include sections about job security, then you are not employed ‘at will’.
It should be noted that if you have an employment contract, this overrides the ‘at will’ employee rule. For example, if it states in your contract that misconduct or poor performance could lead to termination, your job is pretty safe as long as you make sure to follow the rules. You only really need to worry if there is nothing about employee behavior in the contract, and especially if there is specific allusion to the fact that your employer can dismiss you at their discretion.
Do ‘At Will’ Employees Have Any Rights?
Just because you’re an ‘at will employee’ doesn’t mean you don’t have any rights. After examining your employment documents, even if you find that you are in fact an ‘at will’ employee, there are still restrictions with regards to termination. Unfortunately, these are only the generic anti-discrimination laws which protect you from being fired because of your race, skin color, gender, or disability. This means that you can be terminated for no reason, and unless you can somehow prove discrimination, you cannot sue for wrongful termination.