What Does Employment At-Will Mean?

/ / Law Blog

Most people have heard the term at-will employment and assume it means that your employer can fire you for absolutely anything. While this is partially true, it’s essential to know that there are still laws that employers have to follow in regards to at-will employees. 

If you’re an at-will employee but you believe you’ve been wrongfully terminated, it’s essential to contact an employment law attorney in Stuart, Martin County, as soon as possible. Don’t hesitate to contact Crary Buchanan for all of your legal protections regarding your employment. Call 772-287-2600 today for a free consultation. You can also easily schedule a free case evaluation online with our simple to use the contact form.

What Is At-Will Employment?

When you’re an at-will employee, this means that your employer is permitted to terminate you at any time, without warning, for any reason as long as that reason is not prohibited by law. Regardless of how valuable you believe you are, or how good of a job you think you’re doing, your position is almost never safe when you’re an at-will employee. Additionally, an employer can fire you at any time for no reason. As an at-will employee, it’s also your prerogative to leave your job at any time without suffering any consequences. 

Further, your employer is allowed to change the terms of your employment whenever they want to. For example, they can change your salary, benefits, or paid time off. Therefore, being an at-will employee affords you far fewer protections than if you are a contract employee. If you’re confused about your employment status, it’s a good idea to contact an employment law attorney in Stuart, FL.

Exceptions To The At-Will Presumption

Because of the harsh consequences of being an at-will employee, the courts have created three exceptions. If you’re able to show that you fall into one of these categories, you can show that you are not an at-will employee and that you cannot be terminated for any or no reason.

1. Public Policy 

This is the most common exception to the at-will presumption. This exception protects employees against adverse employment actions that have a negative impact on public interest. For example, if an employee is terminated for filing a worker’s compensation claim, this is against the public interest and should be prohibited. The public policy exception is similar to the rules that prohibit an employer from retaliating against an employee.

2. Implied Contract 

An implied contract is another exception to the at-will employment presumption. When an implied contract is created, an employee often has an expectation of a fixed term and believes the employer will not fire them unless there’s a legitimate reason to do so. Implied contracts can be created by oral assurances or by an employer’s handbooks, policies, or other practices. For example, if an employer routinely tells employees that they only fire people for cause, and the employee handbook says something similar, this may create an implied contract. However, courts generally fail to find an implied contract when the employer uses language that promises permanent or lifetime employment and will consider the employment to be at-will.

3. Implied Covenant Of Good Faith

Some states recognize an implied covenant of good faith as an exception to the at-will presumption. An implied covenant of good faith essentially fills in the gaps of a contract. Its purpose is to ensure that neither party will do anything to unfairly interfere with the other party’s rights to receive the benefits of the contract. When there is a question about employment that isn’t explicitly answered in the contract, some courts will find an implied covenant of good faith, and then the employee will have to establish that the employer did not act in good faith. If the courts find that the employer terminated an employee in bad faith or was motivated by malice, they may find that the termination was unlawful.

Statutory Exceptions To At-Will Employment

If you’re an at-will employee, your employer may be able to terminate you at any time, but it must not be for unlawful reasons. Unlawful terminations primarily occur as a result of illegal discrimination and retaliation.

1. Illegal Discrimination

Under state and federal law, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against you on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability conditions, marital status, or whether or not you are a veteran. This means they cannot make any employment decisions based on these characteristics. Employment decisions include hiring, firing, promotions, benefits, and more. Just because you’re a member of a protected class doesn’t mean you can’t be fired. It simply means you can’t be fired because of that. If you’re not doing a good job, you can still be fired.

2. Retaliation

Federal and state laws make it illegal for an employer to fire you or take other adverse employment actions against you in retaliation for engaging in legal and protected activities. If you believe your employer has discriminated against you or someone else and you make a complaint, your employer is prohibited from retaliating against you by engaging in any type of adverse employment action against you, such as firing you or failing to promote you.

Contact Us Today

Crary Buchanan is a general practice law firm dedicated to providing quality legal services in the state of Florida. Our lawyers have significant legal experience in virtually every major area of law, and most of our associates are Board Certified by the Florida Bar in their areas of expertise. This breadth of legal experience, coupled with our years of service and dedication in our community, means Crary Buchanan attorneys are miles above the rest. 

If you have more questions or want a dedicated employment law attorney in Stuart, FL, to help you, call 772-287-2600. You can also easily schedule a free consultation online with our simple to use the contact form. We have successfully resolved hundreds of disagreements involving wrongful termination and other employment law issues over the years and can boast of many satisfied clients. You can always depend on Crary Buchanan for our honesty, trustworthiness, dedication, and experience. Call us today.  

The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not decide whether or not to contact an attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed, nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.