When you are hired, you will normally have an at-will employment contract. What this contract generally states is that the employer is allowed to terminate your role at any time. The employer doesn’t have to tell you why they’re firing you, give you any advanced notice or need a reason.
The catch to this is that employers are still not allowed to terminate you for a protected reason. For example, if you break your leg at work, file for workers’ compensation, or need reasonable accommodations to do your work, your employer can’t fire you just because you got hurt on the job. Employers also cannot treat an at-will employee differently due to that employee’s age, gender, race, or religion (to name a few), and cannot retaliate against those who file for workers’ compensation or complain of discriminatory treatment.
Are there benefits to at-will employment?
Yes, but mostly for employers. Employers who have at-will policies are able to quickly adapt to changes in the market. They can add or remove workers without worrying about being sued or needing to pay severances. Additionally, at-will employers are allowed to change workers’ benefits, paid time off or salaries at will.
For employees, the benefit is that they are also allowed to leave a job at any time with or without a two-week notice. If there is no valid non-compete agreement, then workers can move to similar roles with competitors, too.
There are restrictions on at-will employment
There are some protections employees have against termination. For example, employees are able to make claims of civil rights violations, workers’ compensation, or other complaints without fear of retaliation. Whistleblowers are usually protected against losing their jobs, too.
Additionally, all employees are entitled to:
- Fair compensation for their work
- A safe workplace
- Protection against harassment and discrimination
When you apply for a job, the employer will usually let you know if they are an at-will employer or not. Knowing if your employer does hire at-will assists you in preparing for the risk of a sudden termination or job loss and lets you know what kinds of protections are there for you. If you’re terminated for a reason protected by law, you may still be able to make a claim against your employer.