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Employment At-Will: Washington

Employment At-Will requirements for other states

Federal law and guidance on this subject should be reviewed together with this section.

Author: Michael C. Jacobson, XpertHR Legal Editor


  • Washington courts adhere to the employment at-will doctrine, but the at-will status of most employees in the state is somewhat tenuous. See Employment At-Will Doctrine, Generally.
  • Washington follows principles of contract law in determining whether the parties to an employment relationship have expressly or impliedly created an employment contract. See Employment Contracts.
  • Washington uses specific statutes of limitations for claims of wrongful termination based on express or implied employment contracts. See Employment Contracts.
  • Verbal promises of employment tenure or grounds for termination may be enforceable against the employer if the employee specifically bargained for such terms or gave up something of value in order to accept a position. See Employment Contracts.
  • Written provisions in an employee handbook or policy manual can also create binding obligations for employers, but employees must demonstrate several elements in order to succeed on claims of breach of implied contracts based on handbook provisions. See Employment Contracts.
  • Washington recognizes public policy exceptions to the employment at-will doctrine, but the courts require that the public policy considerations derive from specific sources of law. See Public Policy Exceptions.
  • Washington courts do not recognize that the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing applies to at-will relationships. The covenant may still apply to express employment contracts, however. See Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing.
  • Washington courts also recognize other claims against employers stemming from terminations, including intentional infliction of emotional distress and defamation. See Exceptions in Tort.