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Wrongful termination and the at-will employment rule, P.1

Job security is a valuable thing, even when you’re underemployed, and most people like to think that they have reasonable job security. To think otherwise is difficult. Job security can be looked at a couple ways, though. First, there is job security seen from a practical standpoint—an employee’s likelihood of being terminated. Most employees who are tuned into the nature of their work and the feedback they routinely receive from their employer probably have a pretty good idea where they stand in this area.

Second, though, there is job security from a legal perspective. From this perspective, there is actually very little job security for most people. That’s because most people are employed at-will, meaning the employer can terminate the employment relationship at any time, for any reason. That is a two-way right of course, but it doesn’t always balance out in terms of bargaining power. 

Despite the general rule of at-will employment, there are a number of exceptions to the rule. For example, federal and state laws prohibit termination based on illegal discrimination and protected off-duty activities, as well as retaliation for engaging in certain protected activities, such as whistle-blowing.

In addition, states may have public policies which provide protection from termination in other circumstances. States may also recognize certain circumstances where there is an implied contract or implied covenant of good faith that provides certain protections from termination. State courts may also allow tort-based or equitable remedies in some situations.

In addition to these exceptions, the at-will rule can be modified by contract, which often happens among high-level employees. We’ll continue looking at this topic in our next post, and the importance of working with an experienced attorney to recover compensation for wrongful termination.

Sources:

National Conference of State Legislatures, “The At-Will Presumption and Exceptions to The Rule,” Accessed April 10, 2017.

Minnesota Department of Labor & Industry, “Labor Standards—Termination,” Accessed April 10, 2017.

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