Are There Limitations to At-Will Employment?

Most employees throughout the United States are more than likely considered to be employed at-will. That’s because an at-will employment doctrine is adopted in some form by 49 states, Montana being the exception. This makes it important to understand not just what at-will employment means, but what its limitations are.

So, what is at-will employment? Most people tend to have a basic understanding that it means you can get fired for almost any reason. That’s not an incorrect understanding, but it’s an incomplete one for two reasons: For one, there are limitations on an employer’s ability to invoke the at-will clause in your employment contract – but we’ll get to that. The second reason is that at-will employment also gives you the power to quit your job at any time, with or without notice, without fearing a lawsuit from your employer.

Imagine a scenario where you were working a job you hated with an overbearing boss who seemed to enjoy making your life miserable. You could choose to sever your professional relationship with the company without assuming liability for incomplete projects or leaving before a certain number of months or years have passed.

A better understanding of at-will employment, then, would be this:

  • You can get fired for almost any reason, or no reason at all; and you may quit your job for any or no reason, with or without notice.

Now that we have a good bird’s eye view of at-will employment, let’s dig a little deeper into its limitations.

When an ‘At-Will’ Termination May Be Illegal

You may have noticed that our understanding of at-will employment states that you can get first for almost any reason. The “almost” implies there’s a limit to the kind of reasoning that can go behind an at-will termination, and that limit is if the reasoning is rooted in a violation of the employee’s rights.

In other words, employers cannot fire their employees for illegal reasons and claim it was an “at-will” firing. Employees who recognize that they’ve been fired under such circumstances may have a valid wrongful termination claim that they can bring against their former employers.

When a Reason to Fire Someone Is Illegal

Although some employers may treat it as such, at-will employment is not a shield against wrongful termination claims. Laws against discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliating against whistleblowers, and more go to great lengths to protect workers from unfair treatment.

Whether or not your employer claims ‘at-will,’ you cannot be fired for reasons related to:

  • Discrimination (age, sex, race, gender, gender identity, pregnancy, disability, national origin, etc.)
  • Reporting sexual harassment
  • An employee’s political beliefs or affiliations with political parties and/or unions
  • Requesting legally permitted time-off (such as the Family and Medical Leave Act)
  • Reporting unlawful activity at work or participating in an investigation into such activity

These are just a broad overview of when firing an employee and trying to claim it as an at-will termination would be a risky, unethical, and probably illegal action taken by a company.

What You Should Do

If you suspect that you or someone you know has been fired for an illegal reason, an employment law attorney who handles wrongful termination cases should be consulted immediately. A lawyer like ours at Limonjyan Law Group will take time to learn about your situation and evaluate the validity of your claim and assess what the likelihood of success may be if you ultimately wish to confront your former employment.

Limonjyan Law Group can provide the personalized legal counsel and services you need to reach a resolution in your dispute that may favor your interests. We can help you pursue fair and just compensation in a wrongful termination lawsuit if you believe your former employer fired you for an unlawful reason.

Learn more by scheduling an initial case evaluation with our firm today. Reach out to Limonjyan Law Group today by calling (213) 277-7444 or filling out our online contact form.