For the vast majority of people, work is a necessary means of survival. Even people who enjoy what they do day in and day out still continue to work, to some extent, because they have to pay the bills. This is why, for most people, it is difficult to think about the fact that there is very little preventing their employer from terminating them at any time. What we’re referring to here is the doctrine of at-will employment.
The exact details of the rule vary from state to state, but at-will employment generally refers to the principle that an employer does not need to have a reason—good or bad—to terminate an employee’s position. This is a difficult thing for most of us to accept because we rely on our employment for survival and can’t bear the thought that it could be taken from us so easily.
The only state in the nation where an employer must have a good reason to terminate an employee is Montana. Under the law of that state, one is able to sue for wrongful termination when an employer fails to provide a good cause. The statute allows up to four years of lost wages, fringe benefits and interest to be awarded. In other states, there are certain exceptions to the at-will rule. These include exceptions for public policy reasons, implied contracts, implied covenants of good faith and fair dealing, tort-based claims which limit at-will employment, and the equitable doctrine of promissory estoppel.
Certain statutory exceptions to at-will employment also exist. These include exceptions for illegal discrimination, protections associated with an employee’s life outside the workplace, as well as retaliation and whistle-blowing protections.
In our next post, we’ll take a look at the law here in Minnesota and why it is important to work with an experienced attorney when one has been subjected to potential wrongful termination.
Source: National Conference of State Legislatures, “The at-will presumption and exceptions to the rule,” Accessed Dec. 4, 2015.