At-Will Employment

Definition

When an individual is employed "at will," the employer is able to terminate employment at any point in time; without providing an explanation.  In the same manner, the employee is free to stop working whenever they choose to do so.

Explanation

The concept of at-will employment has been around for over 100 years.  At-will employment is based on a practice that allows either the employer or employee to terminate the relationship at any time.  Interestingly, if the employee feels, and a court or arbitrator decide, that they were terminated for a specific reason, then the company may need to demonstrate "just cause."

Employers are prohibited from terminating an employee at-will in the following situations:

  • Employees involved in filing a Workers Compensation claim, attending jury duty or on military leave, or when an employee refuses to violate a law.
  • If managers and supervisors have a reason, or "cause," for terminating an employee, they should use that approach instead of relying on the "at-will" doctrine.

Finally, even when employed at-will, it is illegal to fire individuals under certain conditions.  For example, individuals cannot be fired due to gender, religious beliefs, or age.

Related Terms

benefits, work environment, exit interview, self-employed