HR Support with At-Will Employment

Editor's Note: Preserve your right to an at-will employment relationship where possible.

Michael JacobsonOverview: The employment at-will doctrine provides employers with critical flexibility when it comes to terminating employees for disciplinary issues, poor performance, or in connection with layoffs or restructuring. However, the doctrine is interpreted and applied differently in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Common exceptions are made for employees retained by an employment contract, employees protected by implied contracts, terminations that would violate public policy, terminations made in bad faith and other employment-related claims like intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation and fraud.

Given the myriad exceptions, it is imperative that employers take steps to preserve the at-will relationship. HR professionals should ensure employees sign and acknowledge at-will disclaimers, craft and distribute policy manual or employee handbook provisions detailing the employment at-will doctrine, and educate supervisors regarding the risks of promising employment tenure or certain grounds for termination. In that regard, the employment at-will doctrine is only as powerful as the employer's program to implement it.

Trends: The landscape of wrongful termination law, including the exceptions to the employment at-will doctrine recognized in each state, is constantly evolving with notable recent cases in North Carolina and Texas. Given these developments, it is crucial that employers monitor the evolution of the employment at-will doctrine in their state(s) so that when it comes time to make the difficult decision of terminating an employee, they are fully informed as to the possible implications.

Author: Michael Jacobson, JD, Legal Editor

Latest items in At-Will Employment

  • Employment At-Will: District of Columbia

    Type:
    Employment Law Manual

    In-depth review of the spectrum of District of Columbia employment law requirements HR must follow with respect to employment at-will.

  • Terms of Employment: Arkansas

    Type:
    Employment Law Manual

    In-depth review of the spectrum of Arkansas employment law requirements HR must follow with respect to terms of employment.

  • Employment At-Will: Colorado

    Type:
    Employment Law Manual

    In-depth review of the spectrum of Colorado employment law requirements HR must follow with respect to employment at-will doctrine.

  • Purpose of Employee Handbook Handbook Statement: California

    Type:
    Employee Handbooks

    California employers seeking to let employees know the purpose of the handbook, while also clearly indicating that the handbook is not intended as a contract and does not alter the at-will nature of the employment relationship should consider including this model policy statement in their handbook.

  • Employment At-Will Handbook Statement: California

    Type:
    Employee Handbooks

    California employers seeking to make clear that, absent a written agreement indicating otherwise, the employment relationship is at-will should consider including this model policy statement in their handbook.

  • Acknowledgement and Receipt Handbook Statement: California

    Type:
    Employee Handbooks

    California employers should require that employees acknowledge receipt and understanding of the employee handbook and, therefore, should consider including this model policy statement in their handbook.

  • About This State Supplement Handbook Statement: New Jersey

    Type:
    Employee Handbooks

    New Jersey employers seeking to explain how the handbook and supplement should be read together and that neither the handbook nor the supplement alter an employee's at-will status should consider including this model policy statement in their handbook.

  • About This State Supplement Handbook Statement: Washington

    Type:
    Employee Handbooks

    Washington employers seeking to explain how the handbook and supplement should be read together and that neither the handbook nor the supplement alter an employee's at-will status should consider including this model policy statement in their handbook.

  • Terms of Employment: Utah

    Type:
    Employment Law Manual

    In-depth review of the spectrum of Utah employment law requirements HR must follow with respect to terms of employment.

  • About This State Supplement Handbook Statement: Maine

    Type:
    Employee Handbooks

    Maine employers seeking to explain how the handbook and supplement should be read together and that neither the handbook nor the supplement alter an employee's at-will status should consider including this model policy statement in their handbook.