What is at-will employment?

How does at-will employment affect employers?

As an employer, it is important to understand your legal rights with regard to laying-off or fire an employee. Understanding the laws can help you deal with employees in the proper way. All U.S. states except Montana operate on a legal concept called “at-will employment.” Montana requires employee dismissal to be based on cause. For that matter, most countries throughout the world also use cause as the basis for dismissal.

What does “at-will employment” mean from a legal perspective?

Except for a reason that would be illegal (such as discrimination), at-will employment means an employer can fire an employee for any reason, at any time. In addition, an employee can leave the job at any time and for any reason at all. Neither the employer or the employee ending the work relationship faces legal consequences.

In addition, an employer can change the conditions for employment without notice and without suffering consequences.

What are some work terms that employers might change when operating their business based on at-will employment?

Examples of terms the employer might change include:

  • Cuts in Wages
  • Reduced benefits
  • Whether or not to pay for time off
  • An on-call work schedule

Can a contract modify at-will employment?

When employers use employment contracts, the contracts could modify aspects of at-will employment. The types of terms that contracts often modify include job termination based on at-cause conditions or setting a specified term of employment. Situations where employers use these types employment contracts are generally for high-level employees. In addition, if the job falls under a union, then collective bargaining agreements typically specify that employers must terminate employees based on cause.

What are some cause based reasons that employers terminate employees?

Some of the reasons employers terminate employees based on cause (as covered by a contract) include:

  • Poor performance
  • Economic necessity to layoff
  • Employee misconduct

(Reference: National Conference of State Legislatures )

As an employer, do you have legal questions about terminating employees?

If you have questions about job termination, arrange a consultation with an experienced employment defense lawyer. Call Stephen D. Hans & Associates, P.C. at (718) 275-6500.